In his first eight months after graduating from Binghamton, Jake Keegan has already played with professional soccer teams in Israel, Austria and Germany. He’s still fighting to live out his childhood dream, but the experiences he’s encountered in his pursuit of it have made that journey seem more like a ride.
“Growing up, my dream was not to play for some big team in Europe or anything like that. That just seemed too far away at the time,” Keegan said. “My dream was to play in Major League Soccer.”
After an historic collegiate career at Binghamton University that concluded with 28 goals and 69 points, both records for the program’s 12-year Division I era, Keegan was selected in the third round of the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft by the Philadelphia Union. In doing so, he became the first Bearcat ever to be drafted by a Major League Soccer club.
But when the excitement of being drafted into MLS settled and Keegan reevaluated his options, he chose to go overseas. Putting his dream on the back burner wasn’t a decision that came easily, but Keegan said the opportunity to try out for Maccabi Haifa F.C., one of the biggest teams in Israel’s top soccer league, was “just too good to pass up.”
“I really enjoyed my time in Israel,” Keegan said. “Everyone within the city lived and breathed Maccabi Haifa.”
While Maccabi Haifa didn’t offer him a contract, Keegan was exposed to a higher level of play in Israel and was able to improve his game.
From there, Keegan trained with FC Lustenau, a team in Austria’s lower league, before returning to the United States to play with Jersey Express S.C. over the summer. The Newark-based amateur team is part of the Premier Development League, the top-level amateur soccer competition in the United States.
Now, Keegan is signed with FCA Darmstadt in Germany.
“From a soccer standpoint, I enjoy the style of play [in Germany] more than in Israel,” Keegan said. “In Israel, the game was slower and much more possession-based. Here, the game is faster and more direct while at the same time valuing possession. As a striker, I like when the game is played at a fast pace. It wears the defenders down and allows for more chances and hopefully more goals.”
At 5 feet 9 inches and 150 lbs., Keegan has never been one of the biggest players on any roster, and yet he’s always a major threat to the defense whenever he steps on the pitch. In lieu of his size, Keegan has used his soccer instincts and his anticipation skills to be at the right place at the right time as often as possible.
“I am not necessarily the biggest or strongest player on the field, but I feel my biggest strength on the field is my movement,” Keegan said. “I have a good sense on where to move next on the field in order to create a chance on goal.”
Binghamton soccer head coach Paul Marco, who recruited Keegan to BU while he was a student at John Jay High School in Stormville, N.Y., attributed Keegan’s success to his relentless work ethic and his “knack for finding the back of the net.”
“The honors and awards that [Keegan] won last year were great and it came directly from who he was throughout his time with us,” Marco said. “But more importantly, during matches, he was a guy we could rely on to get goals … For Jake, we’re delighted. We’re very impressed with all he’s accomplished and he still has a lot to do.”
Still less than a year removed from Binghamton, Keegan recalls his time in the green and white as the most important period in his soccer career. While Marco recruited Keegan out of high school based on his raw talent, Keegan found his identity as a player while at Binghamton and proved he was capable of leading a team.
“My career at Binghamton helped me grow both as a player and a person,” Keegan said. “I cannot thank Coach Marco enough for the belief he had in me. From day one as a freshman he had 100 percent belief in my abilities as a player. This did wonders for my belief in myself, which is vital in the professional game where each day your self-belief is put to the test.”
While Keegan still has a long way to go to realize his childhood dream of breaking into MLS, many of his travel experiences keep him reminiscing of when he was younger and an aspiring professional soccer player.
“At Maccabi Haifa I had the opportunity to train with a player who walked out as the opposite captain to Steven Gerrard in the Champions League,” Keegan said. “I also had the chance to watch Borussia Dortmund [Germany] play and was 10 feet away from Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus.”
Still, Keegan realizes it’s important to distinguish his childhood dreams from his current goals. The allure of one day playing in MLS remains “a special opportunity” in Keegan’s eyes, but for now, he’s taking it one step at a time and getting the most out of each stop along the way.
“My goal has always been to improve each day and do everything I can to reach my potential as a player,” Keegan said. “In that sense, I have accomplished my goals. With that being said, there are also goals that I made for myself that I did not accomplish in the past eight months. The good news is there is still time left in my career to make up for it.”