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How UCLA and U.S. Residency Taught Earl Edwards Jr. to Be Patient at Orlando City

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The Lions' backup keeper has seen limited playing time over his past two years, but his time in high school and college has prepared him perfectly for his current situation.

Matt Starkey

Earl Edwards Jr. is used to biding his time, waiting for his moment. Drafted in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft at No. 43 overall by Orlando City, the goalkeeper came into a situation knowing that playing time would be at a premium for him. Through his year and change with the team, Edwards has accepted his role as a backup with professionalism and patience, something that he learned over his years in high school and college.

I sat down with Edwards this past Thursday and talked about how he got ready for his role with the Lions. Edwards attributed how he's handled his professional career to his five years with the UCLA Bruins.

"UCLA was huge for me," Edwards said, "I got there and expected to play right away. I was the top recruit out of high school and I got there and Brian Rowe, who’s obviously with the Galaxy now, was there behind Brian Perk (another Galaxy goalkeeper) and when I got in, he was supposed to be the starting guy.

"I didn’t know that coming in, so I expected to play right away and I learned the hard way that wasn’t going to be the case. So, for me, having that experience then and now being at the professional level and dealing with the same thing, that experience in college has prepared me for this. I stayed there five years, I enjoyed the experience, and I think everything UCLA had to offer prepared me for what I needed to go through at the professional level. And getting some of the top talent in the county allowed me to progress my game while I was in college."

Edwards redshirted his first year in college and only played sparingly his second, but became the starter and team captain for the Bruins in 2012. Over the next four years, Edwards tallied 208 saves in 61 starts, along with a 37-12-12 record. He was also named first-team All-Pac-12 twice, second-team Soccer America All-American in 2013, and he led his team to the College Cup final, where the Bruins lost in penalties to Virginia.

Another big influence on Edwards was his time with the U.S. Youth Residency Program down at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. He was the goalkeeper for the U.S. at the U-17 World Cup back in 2009, leading the U.S. to the Round of 16. He also led the U.S. through the 2009 Brazil Copa Macae U-17 tournament, where the Americans came out as champions after beating Fluminense in a penalty shootout, after which Edwards won the Goleiro award (for best goalkeeper in the tournament).

"That’s always a tough one just because I left the house when I was 14 or 15 to move out and live with 40 other guys, top talent in the country and trained every day," Edwards said, reminiscing on his time in the residency program. "It was good. It was something that I would do all over again. We got to travel the world and play the best countries and teams in the world, preparing for the U-17 World Cup, and we had a good experience at the World Cup. The whole thing was something that the 40 of us would all do again if we could go back and have to make that tough decision again. So, it was something that was big for my game and that helped me develop."

Fast forward a few years, and Edwards was drafted as a backup for Orlando City in its first year at the MLS level. Coming into another situation where he would start off as a backup, Edwards took it as another learning opportunity, spending the bulk of last season learning from the two veteran goalkeepers on the roster at the time, Donovan Ricketts and Tally Hall.

"Having two keepers that are in their 30s was a big learning tool for me," Edwards said about the veteran goalkeepers, "So, I came in and Tally was actually injured for the first few months, still recovering from his ACL, so I was playing behind Ricketts and Ricketts and I go way back. When I was coming out of residency, before I went to UCLA, I did a full preseason with the Galaxy and Ricketts was the keeper of the year the year prior, so he was with the Galaxy then. I got to train with him for a few months then, and then a few summers ago trained with him for a couple weeks in Portland as well.

"So, coming in, it was cool to be around him again and learn from him and then as Tally recovered and came back, to get to train with him was a cool experience as well. Between the two of them, they couldn’t be more opposite ends of the spectrum. Ricketts was very laid back, God-given ability that you don’t see very often. Tally, very talented and just works his butt off. So between the two of them, I was able to learn a lot and take a lot from both their games and try to add as much as I could to mine."

With all of the preparation and patience, Edwards will be ready to go when called upon and, despite his current situation as a backup to Joe Bendik, it's only a matter of time before the Lions keeper gets his chance between the sticks as a starter. When he does, all the development and learning opportunities he had along the way will come in handy.

If you want to listen to my full interview with Earl, where I ask him about Bendik, playing with OCB, the new and old goalkeeping coaches, and even a few basketball questions, give it a listen using the player below.