The Union signed goalkeeper Matt Freese to a Homegrown Player contract Friday, making him the seventh academy product on the team’s roster. But this one is quite different from the others.
A 20-year-old Wayne native, Freese attended Episcopal Academy while playing for Union youth teams. He was a marquee prospect, and was called up to a U.S. under-19 national team in 2017. That same year, he got a taste of professional life when Manchester United invited him over for a week. The English power was so impressed that it offered him an apprentice contract.
But there was another offer on the table, too, one that meant more than soccer. Harvard had recruited him, offering a chance to follow in his father’s and two brothers' footsteps. Freese chose that route instead of turning pro. Now, after two college seasons, he’s leaving Harvard to join the Union full time.
“My dad and my brothers being there was special to me, but at this point in my soccer career, I know I want to take the steps to a professional environment so I can focus on soccer every day,” Freese said Friday. “I talked to Ernst [Tanner] and he’s really adamant on me finishing my degree at some point, which I really appreciate. It’s something that I’ll chip away at over time.”
Freese holds a German passport, which will allow him expedited passage to Europe should suitors come calling. They already have, he acknowledged, and not just Manchester United.
“There was some interest in general, but I’m definitely excited with the deal that I have at the Union, my development path that they’ve lined up here,” he said. “It’s one of the teams that’s the most focused on youth development in MLS, which is a great situation."
Tanner, the Union sporting director, first saw Freese in person when Harvard visited Penn in November. Tanner liked what he saw then, and in tape of Freese’s other games.
“He made a fantastic impression to me, one that has only grown with further study,” Tanner said in a statement. “We have observed immense progress throughout his time in our Academy, with Steel FC, and for Harvard, and we couldn’t be prouder to see him take this next step.”
Freese is the 10th Harvard product to get a shot in MLS. One of the most successful, Michael Fucito, is now an assistant coach with the Crimson, and helped Freese work through what it takes to make the big move.
“He was definitely helpful,” Freese said of Fucito, who played for four MLS teams in seven seasons. “Just kind of giving me advice and explaining the logistics and things like that of the specifics of turning pro. ... I really appreciated everything that he told me.”