Undrafted in the 2016 MLS Super Draft, Callum Irving bounced around in the preseason before ending up in South Texas. Taking over as the primary goalkeeper for RGVFC midway through the season, the former Kentucky Wildcat Irving was a part of the best scoreless streak in USL history. He has great reflexes, and is always calm and collected in goal, saving multiple shots in high stakes moments, including a couple PKs. I was able to chat with my favorite Canadian on his year with the Toros, Coach Calipari, and some of the ups and downs of being a professional goalkeeper.
Dynamo Theory: After experiencing the disappointment of going undrafted in the Superdraft, you had an amazing rookie year. How would you describe 2016 for Callum Irving?
Callum Irving: 2016 was a year full of learning for me. After a disappointing start to the year, I was super happy to finally find a home with the Toros, and from then on out, just tried to focus on being the best pro I could be. Whether that was on the bench, or on the field, I wanted to make the most out of my opportunity. I feel as though by the end of the year, I had learned so much.
DT: What allowed you and the defense to go on such a remarkable run through the middle of the season?
CI: I think it was a culmination of a lot of things. We encountered a bit of luck, however, I really feel as though we earned those small moments of luck with how hard we had been working all season. The defensive principles really started to click with the group as a whole as well. Once we saw the results we also had the added motivation and belief within the group that nobody was going to score on us.
DT: Was it difficult to split time with other goalkeepers throughout the year?
CI: It's always difficult to not be on the pitch, as that's where every single player wants to be. However, as a goalkeeper, you know that only one guy can play at a time, so I guess I was prepared for being on the bench from time to time. If you're not mentally prepared to deal with that as a goalkeeper, then you won't make it far in this game.
DT: On the other side, what were some of the best pieces of advice you got from Calle Brown, Devin Perales, or Tyler Deric?
CI: When I would go up to the Dynamo and train, the older guys like Tyler and Joe Willis would help me with certain technical aspects of the game, as well as tips and tricks that they had learned over the years when in games. Stuff like that is invaluable. They also just showcased the importance of showing up to training everyday with the right attitude, and mentality, to train and get better.
DT: Among that group of Dynamo/Toro goalkeepers, there are some strong beards. How would you power rank that group of facial hair?
CI: The beards were definitely a trend within the group. I like to think I have a pretty solid beard myself, but Calle Brown had a pretty nice one going as well. I know that Joe had a mean one in preseason, and Tyler would go in and out of having a beard. I don't know if I could rank them as they were all great in their own unique ways. *Laughs*
DT: You had the opportunity to train with Houston multiple times throughout the year, including signing a short term agreement for a US Open Cup match. How did you enjoy your time with the first team?
CI: Training with Houston was great. To have the opportunity to get the call-in as many times as I did throughout the year was great, and I felt very fortunate to get that level of training on a semi-regular basis. Paul Rogers is a fantastic goalkeeper coach, one of the best I've ever worked with, and so for me to be able to get games with RGV and have sessions with him, I'd say it was a pretty good year of soccer.
DT: After a great season in USL, what's next? MLS? How much did you improve in your rookie year?
CI: Well, at the moment, I am mulling over a few options, and just like everyone else on the Toros, we all want to make that move up to the MLS. It's a great league that gets better every year, however, as an international player in the US, it's a bit difficult to break in. So right now, I am really just trying to find the best fit for me to continue my development. I think that over the year, I really just worked on the mental aspect of the game. Adjusting to the pressures of the pro game and the disappointment that can come with that pressure was difficult. However, I had a very strong support group around me in the form of my teammates, and so I think that after this year, I'm much more prepared for my second full professional season and look forward to the challenges ahead.
DT: What are you plans for the offseason?
CI: The offseason will be spent in Vancouver, Canada for me. I was born and raised here and absolutely love it. I've already gotten back into a heavy gym/workout routine to try and get my strength and explosiveness up for next season. Other than that, spend a lot of time with family and friends and count down the days until next season begins!
DT: For years, people have always threatened to move from the US to Canada in protest of social issues, a lot of times with politics. This year with the divisive election, that hypothetical plan of action was never discussed more often. To someone who may actually have the courage to make the move up north, how would you describe your native country to a newcomer?
CI: If someone were to move to Canada, then quite simply you would find an extremely warm and welcoming people. One of the reasons I love my country so much is because we are so accepting of people from all walks of life. Beyond that, you can expect a lot of natural beauty and cold winters. *Laughs*
DT: Last question, as a Kentucky alum, Coach Calipari has been amazing in his time with Big Blue Nation, especially with bringing in elite prospects. How would he be with soccer recruiting?
CI: First off, Coach Cal is an absolute legend. What he has continued to do with the Kentucky Basketball program is nothing short of amazing, and every year I count down until basketball season starts. Seeing what he's capable of firsthand, I would have to say that he could recruit anybody for any job on the planet. The guy just has a way with words, and if he were to begin recruiting for soccer than I'm sure he could lock up some high quality players wherever he went! *Laughs*