Andrew Dykstra never gave up.
Not when the Chicago Fire released him after two seasons. Not when he toiled for three seasons in pro soccer’s minor leagues. Dykstra believed he had the talent to still compete somewhere, if not in MLS, then perhaps overseas.
Confidence in his ability. Determination in his outlook. Those two factors kept Dykstra from walking away from soccer for good and pursuing another career. It also kept him on teams’ radar screens.
His perseverance paid off. On April 5, Dykstra started his first MLS game in over three years.
He did so without any fanfare. The Osbourn Park High School graduate only learned of his promotion to the first string when he saw a list on a board the day D.C. United hosted the New England Revolution.
It was a typical scenario for a guy who has learned to adjust on the fly without getting too high or too low.
The key was to be ready when your name is called. And on this night, he was, recording a shutout in a 2-0 win and helping D.C. United win their first game of the year.
“I mentally understand the way to deal with this,” Dykstra said. “The last couple of years there have been ups and downs. In this game, there are no real promises. You are a somebody one day and nobody the next.”
Dykstra became the starter after Bill Hamid hurt his foot while training with the U.S. National Team. As Hamid continues to recover, Dykstra has been a more than adequate replacement. In three games, he has two shutouts and almost got a third last Saturday in Columbus until Hector Jimenez placed an unstoppable shot into the net in the 90th minute earn a last-minute 1-1 tie.
"Andrew is a talented keeper and someone we have always had faith in, and he has been rock solid the last several games," said D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper. "Having a player who is always ready to compete at a moments notice is something every team has to have, and that is a testament to the type of person and player Andrew is."
The 28-year-old Dykstra has strong credentials. He got his first shot in MLS with the Fire when he was named the starter for the 2010 season. At the time, the move was a surprise, given Dykstra was stepping in for Jon Busch, the 2008 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year who had been waived by Chicago.
He also performed well enough in the USL-Pro ranks in 2011 to earn looks from three MLS teams, Seattle, Kansas City and D.C. United. United seemed the best fit for Dykstra, who signed a four-year contract with the club.
Prior to 2014, Dykstra spent the last two seasons as United’s third-string goalie on loan to Charleston in 2012 and to Richmond in 2013.
His time with both squads allowed Dykstra to remain competitive and improve his game. It also attracted interest during this offseason from a third-tier team in England a team in the Scottish Premier League.
Since D.C. owned Dykstra’s rights, they had the option of retaining him. They did, but with an understanding that Dykstra would get a more serious look to become the second-string goalie behind Hamid.
“D.C. United was not interested in letting me go. That was the biggest thing,” Dykstra said. “That was a good sign they did not want to let me go.”
When Joe Willis, who had served as D.C. United’s back-up goalie the last three seasons, was assigned to Richmond, Dykstra knew he was staying with the club.
“Coming into the season, they told me, ‘You increased your value,’ “ Dykstra said. “They told me, ‘You will get your day.’ “
Whether that means staying in the starting lineup or not remains up in the air. D.C. United’s next game is this Saturday at home against FC Dallas and chances are Dykstra may not know his status until that day.
More than likely, Hamid will return as the starter once he’s fully healthy. But Dykstra is prepared for any situation. He’s been through enough since becoming a pro in 2009 to understand how the business works.
The best he can do is rely on his body of work and let it speak for itself.
“It’s been trust in my own abilities,” Dykstra said in reference to why he has continued to stick with soccer. “It’s just about getting an opportunity. That’s the way it is for this position.”