The New York Red Bulls 2014 U-23 team was very good. The squad swept through its Conference in NPSL, winning 12 games out of 12, scoring 54 goals and conceding four. The U-23s were unbeaten in the playoffs too, charging to the Championship game and winning the national title with a 3-1 win over FC Chattanooga at Red Bull Arena.
The team that lifted the NPSL trophy that night included current RBNY first-team starter Sean Davis. Scott Thomsen, Chris Thorsheim, and Mael Corboz all signed MLS Homegrown contracts with the Red Bulls in 2016, though all were released from the roster during preseason. Franklin Castellanos, Victor Manosalvas, and Dan Bedoya played for NYRB II in 2015. Antonio Matarrazzo was drafted by Orlando City SC in 2016; Joe Farrell joined Rochester Rhinos the same year and was a finalist for USL Rookie of the Year last season; Oniel Fisher won MLS Cup with Seattle Sounders last year. The vast majority of the players who won the 2014 NPSL National Championship with the RBNY U-23s turned pro, and most at least tried to start out in the American pro soccer leagues.
The 2014 U-23s' starting goalkeeper, however, took a slightly different route. Mike Lansing went straight to Denmark after graduating from Bucknell University, signing with Vejle Boldklub in the First Division (second tier) of the Danish leagues.
He only turned pro in the summer of 2016, and has yet to establish himself as a starter for Vejle, but his career is moving fast. At the end of January - scarcely six months after he officially joined Vejle - it was announced he would move to AaB Fodbold at the end of the current season. Both teams are among the more successful in Danish soccer, but Vejle is a second division club at the moment; its last top-flight title was won in 1984 and it last played in European club competition in the 1998-99 UEFA Cup. AaB (aka Aalborg) won the Danish League and Cup double in 2013-14, and is a regular - though not constant - representative of Denmark in European club competitions.
In less than a year, and with one competitive pro appearance to his name, it would seem Mike Lansing has already advanced his reputation Denmark. In his spare time, he keeps a blog about his life in soccer - and he graciously agreed to devote some of his writing energy to an email exchange with Once A Metro.
Only three RBNY goalkeepers have started (and finished) a game at Red Bull Arena that saw them claim a national title at the end of it: Luis Robles (2013 Supporters' Shield, clinched at RBA on October 27, 2013) , Ryan Meara (2016 USL Cup, won at RBA on October 23 of last year), and Mike Lansing, who lifted the NPSL Championship trophy at the Arena on August 2, 2014.
Once A Metro: First, I believe congratulations are in order - you signed with Vejle in Denmark in July, and now you're scheduled to move to AAB in the coming summer. The Danish season isn't over yet, but that looks a lot like a step up from the second division to the top flight - how did it come about?
Mike Lansing: Thank you! Yes, it is a step up from the second tier and I am excited to join Aalborg in the summer, but I am keeping my focus on Vejle for the next four and a half months. It actually all happened very quickly: after the winter break, my agent informed me that I was on a couple of teams' lists and we would explore those options; he did some great work and set up a meeting with the staff at Aalborg, which went very well. An offer soon followed. I also had a meeting with Vejle and they wanted to extend my contract, but, after doing some deliberating, I felt that Aalborg was the right move for me.
I am very excited for what is to come to Aalborg, but as I said before, I am focused 100% on Vejle. Gotta throw in a little 'thank you' to my agent, Michael, for everything he does and my GK coach, Toivo, for pushing me and making me a better goalkeeper every day. Those two are the main reasons why this opportunity came about.
OaM: Any culture shock in Denmark? It's your first year as a pro, correct? What's it like adjusting to the pro game and a new culture at the same time?
ML: Mmh.. I really wouldn't say there was much of a culture shock for me. The majority of Danes speak English as their second language, which is very impressive and makes it easy for me to interact with people.
The "pro game" encompasses a lot more than just playing soccer. It's also about how you are in the locker room, what food you put in your body, what you put on social media, what you are wearing in town, etc. You must act as a professional on and off the field in order to make it to the top. In college, I was always looking forward to this lifestyle. To be honest, I wouldn't consider myself a "professional" in college. I didn't watch what I ate that much, I enjoyed a party or two every week, I wore sweats (a lot), and I just didn't handle myself the same way as I do now. Of course, I worked hard on the field and put in countless extra hours of training, but still I wasn't a professional 24/7.
It is hard to explain in text; I liked the college life and I took part in it, but I also was eager to live a more professional lifestyle. All in all, though, I think my parents and previous/current coaches prepared me well for this level.
OaM: Back in 2014, you were part of the NYRB U-23s team that beat Chattanooga FC to win the NPSL Championship - the first non-Academy national playoff final won by any RBNY team. What do you remember of that night and that season?
ML: That was an awesome season! I think 90% of that team has gone on to play at the professional level, so that speaks for the level of our team. They were also a great group of guys to be around, day in and day out, throughout the summer. The night we won the Championship was an amazing experience! It really topped off that undefeated season. I remember going down 0-1 early in the game, but I had that gut feeling that we were going to come out on top. Scotty [Thomsen], Joe Farrell, and Sammy [Adjei] put their chances away and led us to the win. Many of my friends from my hometown had come to a bunch of the games during the summer and were also there that night, so I ran over and celebrated with them; that was an awesome feeling. All in all, a great night - simply put.
OaM: Seems like the vast majority of players on that squad have turned pro - including Sean Davis. Do you still keep in touch with any of them? Do bonds of friendship get made during the short summer stints offered by NPSL/PDL?
ML: I keep in touch with a few of them. You build stronger relationships with some more than others. That being said, that was a very tight team and we spent a lot of time together that summer. We are all spread out now, across the US and in other countries, so it's a little more difficult to maintain the relationships- we still support each other via social media and such. That being said, I know that I could reach out to any one of them if I needed some help or advice, and I'm sure they know and feel they could do the same.
OaM: You're from New Jersey, but you didn't go the RBNY Academy route. Were you familiar with the Red Bulls before you played for the U-23s? How did the experience match up to your expectations going in?
ML: No, I didn't go the RBNY route through my youth - I really didn't play soccer too seriously until early high school, so Red Bulls wasn't much of an option for me, although I did play with PDA for two years (second/third string). I was familiar with players on the first team and MLS as a whole, but I wasn't too sure what to expect when I came in to the U-23 squad. I guess I expected it to be some of the best players in the North-East, and that's basically what it was. The level of play was high and I knew I would have to be on top of my game at all times in order to keep up, and it made me a better player.
OaM: Did you get much exposure to the first team staff and players? Any stories you're allowed to share?
ML: I got a few practices in with the first team when I was a player for the U-23s and have been able to hop in a few unofficial sessions since then. I had gone to games with my family and watched these guys play, then to be able to get a few sessions with them, was pretty surreal.
No crazy stories to tell, but two scenarios stick out to me. One was a small chat with Dax [McCarty] about my desire to play professionally and I recall how positive he was with me. He could have said, "Eh. There's not that many that make it," but, he was encouraging and I really appreciated that. The second was Thierry Henry's face after I saved one of his top corner shots. Subtle brag, but a memorable moment, nonetheless.
OaM: You mention on your blog that you had the opportunity to go to Denmark from your freshman year. You finished your degree at Bucknell before turning pro. In the intervening years, did you consider playing professionally in the US?
ML: I definitely considered it, but I think anyone who knew me, knew that I was pretty set on going to Denmark after the visits I took my freshman year. But, I did give it some thought because it isn't an easy thing to be across the world from your family. In the end, I know that this was the right move for me. I'm going to go wherever this game takes me and one day, it could take me back to the States.