Seventeen Days to Remember
As a graduate student pursuing his Masters degree in sports management at Southeastern University, Skylar Funk already was being schooled.
As a rookie with the Florida Tropics, he also finds himself learning about the ins and out of professional indoor soccer.
Funk's education began less than three weeks ago when he was chosen as the 11th overall selection of the first Major Arena Soccer League draft and so far, he has received passing grades in his short tenure with the team.
"It's been a good start for his career," Tropics head coach Clay Roberts said on Friday.
"I'm not surprised. A couple of things allowed him to be in the lineup when we had some injuries. This is an opportunistic sport, and the opportunity has come. Skylar will always give 100-percent effort and work rate. That was his M.O. here at the university. That's what he's provided, and he's done a tremendous job."
The 23-year-old Funk certainly has experienced an intriguing 17 days.
"Not dramatic, but a big change, for sure," he said. "Coming off the college season and entering the indoor season right away was taxing on the body but I kind of got used to it and just getting fit still."
But fit enough to make an impact.
Here is Funk’s short pro history:
- He was taken by the Tropics in the Dec. 20 draft.
- Three nights later on Dec. 23, he made his professional debut against the Baltimore Blast in a 5-4 loss
- On Dec. 28 at Utica City FC, the Alton, Ill. Native recorded his first point, assisting on the Tropics' first goal, by Breno Oliveira, 125 seconds after the opening kickoff, in a 10-9 victory.
- And on Tuesday, Jan. 3, Funk scored his first goal in an 11-7 defeat at the Empire Strykers.
Now, it's not like player and coach were strangers and that Funk knew nothing about the organization. Funk recently completed his senior season two miles down the road from the Tropics’ home venue, RP Funding Center In Lakeland, Fla., at Southeastern, where Roberts is the coach. So, Roberts knew of his forward’s abilities and strengths and someone he had targeted as a Tropics player well before the draft was established.
"He has qualities that fit into our system and could be really good for the indoor game," said Roberts, who asked Funk whether he was interested in pursuing an indoor career.
It certainly didn't hurt that Funk was an intern with the Tropics last year on game days.
"It was an opportunity for him to see the behind the scenes and really get a feel for everything," Roberts added.
"The choice of him coming on was pretty easy on my side. Was he interested in it? Did he want to try it? And so, when he said, 'Coach, I'm in,' I said, 'It's going take quite a few years to really learn this game. But you're a quick learner, and we have veteran players and so the best thing you can do is ask questions. Tactically try to learn the game as best you can as quickly as you can because technically and physically you have the tools to do it.' "
The 5-9, 170-lb. Funk has been like a sponge, learning the game from some of the best players MASL can offer, including the likes of captain Victor Parreiras, Zach Reget, Drew Ruggles and Chad Vandegriffe, to name a few players.
"I took a lot of notes from the guys and just kept listening and learning along the way," Funk said.
"Obviously my style of play kind of fits the game. I try to work as hard as I can when I don't know the system at hand, but I'll give everything defensively."
And be involved in some goals as well.
"It's very important because I felt like I was running around," Funk said. "Finding the assist and knowing I can make an impact gave me the confidence leading into the goal to just keep working hard. The goal will come and just keep working for the team and the outcome will be the best."
With the Tropics trailing the Strykers 6-4 at 9:18 of the third quarter, Funk found the net.
Oliveira hit the ball off the wall as it bounced behind the goalkeeper. Funk said that he was "just in the right spot at the right time. The guy was trying so I just tried to block it into the goal and the best outcome."
"Not the prettiest goal," Roberts said. "It was not a goal to remember in the sense that we've seen on highlight reels but for him, it was a goal that actually defined him hard work and opportunistic, and he was there in that moment. And so that's, it was a very great goal for us at the time."
"That's the kind of player I am," he said. "I'm not too flashy. I just work hard, and I try to be in the right places at the right time and try to make things happen for the team."
But a goal is a goal is a goal and anyone's first goal for any team they play on is special.
"It was kind of shocking at first. I was like I was like wow, did that just happen?" Funk said. "And then it hit and then so I just kind of got excited. The whole team was excited. We were losing 6-3. We're coming back 6-4, 6-5. And then the momentum just kept coming. The team was pumped up. That just gave us some hope. I'm glad I could impact the team."
While the next semester of graduate school starts next week, Funk has been getting an education and a half in the indoor game.
"More is less," he said. Just working on my touch and thinking about what I'm going to be doing next. When I receive the ball, one, two touches the best and just shoot, build your confidence and just keep learning from all the veterans that are on the team. I'm the youngest on the team. A lot of older guys that have won championships on other teams, but you know they came here have one goal, win a championship, so I'm hopping on that train and enjoying it."
As for balancing playing, training and continuing his pursuit of his graduate degrees, Funk already has worked out his schedule.
"The classes I'm taking are online," Funk said. "I can work around the practice schedule and the traveling, so it's not too bad."
That sports management career might have to wait a while if Funk continues his rapid progress on the carpet.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at email@example.com His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.