Athletics

A Journey to the Professional Soccer Ranks

by Luke Malanga

Bobby Edwards on the soccer field stopping a ball from going in the net.

Saint Joseph's alumnus Bobby Edwards. Photo credit: SJU Athletics

Bobby Edwards stood in Subaru Park last year and looked up in the stands. He spotted the seat he had sat in, just a few years ago, when the St. Joe’s men’s soccer team attended a fundraiser event in the Philadelphia stadium. This time, instead of being in the stands observing the game, he was on the pitch, as a player.

Edwards, who played for St. Joe’s during the 2014-2016 seasons, signed with Major League Soccer team FC Cincinnati at the beginning of 2020. Getting to that point was a winding journey.

From a young age, Edwards was always drawn to the goalkeeping position. He grew up in a family of goalkeepers including his father, his uncle and his cousin — who played in the MLS and oversees.

After playing in high school at Saint Benedict's Prep in Newark, New Jersey, where he won two national championships, Edwards committed to St. Joe’s where he was thrust into the game early as a freshman. With three graduating goalkeepers, they turned to Edwards to stand between the posts and defend the net. 

He vividly remembers his first college game.

“We were down 3-1 at halftime and they put me in and that was my debut for college soccer and I’m a nervous reck, I’m absolutely just a ball full of nerves and we battle back until the last minutes and it’s 3-2 and then the last minute of the game we get a deep free kick and I just launched one in the box.”

They tied up the game and won in overtime. “And that was kind of the moment where everything else took off,” he says.

At St. Joe’s, the training was a whole new level for Edwards and he embraced the challenge to play competitively.

“I give a lot of credit to St. Joe’s for my progression because it’s very rare as a goalkeeper, especially in college, that you come in as a freshman and you see competitive game time in your first year,” Edwards says. “That really helped me progress because as a goalkeeper you need to see minutes, you need to get experience and game action, so that was a really good push in terms of my career.”

Don D’Ambara, head coach of the program taught Edwards and his teammates to play with grit, to roll their sleeves up and to tackle hard.

“Teams hated to play us because we were fit and we were physical and we would just be tough, man,” Edwards says. “That was that tough nosed mentality that was kind of drilled into you when you were a freshman, it carries with you.”

Unfortunately, Edwards suffered an injury that set him out of the game. With a broken foot, unable to play the game he loved and the physical and mental release that it provided him, Bobby made the tough decision to head closer to home and transfer from St. Joe’s.

“I remember giving the speech to the guys in the locker room, because I wanted to tell them to their faces that I was leaving, and just getting choked up,” he says. “It meant a lot to me for the friendships.”

After finishing his last two years of college eligibility at Monmouth University and then Mount St. Mary’s University, Edwards was given the opportunity to play for Portadown F.C. in Northern Ireland, a country he knew nothing about before then. 

With Portadown, he won the league to get the team promoted to the first division. Then he got the call from F.C. Cincinnati. For Bobby, he’d been looking to get to the MLS his entire life, having spent his childhood religiously watching his cousin play in the league.

“When I got the offer I said this is a special place; they’re trying to do big things and it’s something that I want to be a part of,” Edwards says.

He didn’t expect to get his debut this season, but he found himself being called up to play and got his first MLS minutes in October. At the end of the season, his path took another turn as Cincinnati elected not to renew his contract for the next season.

But Edwards isn't deterred. He’s learned that plans change.

Now, Edwards is focusing on what he can control: “Growing as a person, getting better as a keeper and then beginning to think about the bigger scheme of things,” Edwards says. “Now that I’m here, what do I want? Who do I want to be? So a big part of this year has been outside of soccer and what I can do to be a better person.”

Edwards’ father, a pastor, encouraged his son to always ask himself, “What are you doing and are you doing it for good?” At St. Joe’s and throughout his journey, those same principles have guided him.

“‘Go set the world on fire’ is obviously the whole motto. And that’s a core belief of mine. It’s important,” Edwards says, “I think for me more than anything, whatever work I do, I want it to be beneficial. That’s kind of always been the biggest thing.”

Edwards says his time at St. Joe’s and his life experiences after made him think beyond himself and the game: “It's great to be Bobby the goalkeeper, but I’d rather be a good person than a good goalkeeper.”