Many young kids have aspirations of becoming professional athletes. Whatever the sport, they dream of playing at the highest level.
Drew Yates was so close to achieving that dream, he could taste it. And though the MLS team that drafted him didn't end up giving him a contract, he still hasn't given up, he said.
"The goal is to get as far as I can in the outdoor game," Yates said, "so I'll do whatever it takes to get there."
A current midfielder for the MISL's Baltimore Blast, Yates played for the Charlotte Eagles of the USL during the spring of 2013, and contract discussions are in the works for him to return in 2014. But he said his goal was still to play in the MLS.
A decorated player in high school and college, Yates helped lead the University of Maryland to the 2008 national title under coach Sasho Cirovski, finishing his college career with 14 goals and 13 assists during 92 games. In high school, Yates played for Archbishop Curley for two years and DeMatha High School his senior season, with a stint in between in Florida for the Bradenton residency program, a training ground for the U17 World Cup team.
He was named The Washington Post Player of the Year and the Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year in 2006. He was also a three-time NSCAA All-American. This success attracted the MLS Chicago Fire, who drafted him during the mid-second round in 2010.
"I got drafted, and it was me and my parents at home," Yates said. "I was down in the basement and I found out, and I said, 'Dad, I just got drafted by the Fire!' And he jumped up in celebration, and we have a low ceiling, and he hit his hand on the ceiling and just got a huge gash in his hand, and it was bleeding everywhere. My mom ended up having to take him to the emergency room. So I was drafted by the Fire and was all excited, and my parents had to go to the hospital, so I was home alone."
A few weeks later, Yates was in a hotel in Chicago playing preseason games with the Fire.
"It was a fantastic experience getting to live in Chicago, even though I was only in a hotel for a couple months," Yates said. "We were only there for two or three weeks, actually in Chicago, but I loved the city."
Yates traveled all over the country and Mexico for preseason games. He was coming off a great year at Maryland and felt he was starting off well with the Fire, he said. But his confidence started to slip because newly hired head coach Carlos de los Cobos started bringing in trial players to test the waters, and Yates started playing less and less, he said.
"I'm looking at all these trialists, and I'm fresh out of school," Yates said. "I'm just thinking, 'Geez, I must not be in the plans if he's bringing in like 10 trialists a day.' "
The 2010 Fire failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in club history, and after nine losses to start the 2011 season, de los Cobos was let go.
Unaware of the Fire's future and the team's plans for him, Yates began to lose confidence.
Following his 2010 preseason with the Fire, he trained with D.C. United, but his heart wasn't in it, he said.
"I wasn't in the best place mentally," Yates said. "I was burnt out. It was a long preseason, and Chicago kind of gave me the runaround. So I was coming to D.C. I just wanted to sign with someone. I didn't want to be on trial anymore. I didn't do bad, but it was pretty much the same as Chicago -- I wasn't playing with the ability or the skill set that I knew I could showcase. I was only playing with the confidence I had at the time, which was significantly less than I usually have, so I didn't make D.C. and ended up going to [FC] Tampa [Bay]."
After stints with FC Tampa Bay (2010), the USL Harrisburg Islanders (2011 and '12) and the Eagles, Yates is still forging ahead. He had a weeklong trial with SK Sigma Olomouc in the Czech Republic and was also a prospect for a Swedish team. Those experiences have helped Yates build his skill set, season by season, and he said he was satisfied he could continue to play among great players, outdoor and indoor.
During his first five games with the Blast, Yates had two goals and one assist.
"I didn't realize how good the players really are [in indoor]," Yates said. "It's definitely a different mindset to outdoor and a different fitness level. It's a different kind of fitness, more like basketball fitness. It's short sprints, short shifts. You're not really pacing yourself. It's all-out, all the time. Some of the guys on the team -- I consider myself a skillful player -- but some of the guys on the team have better skills than me, and I didn't really see that before playing."
Yates is meeting new people and learning through new experiences along the way. It might not be the MLS, but he said he's having fun on his way there.