Current Marist Men’s Soccer Assistant Coach Krystian Witkowski dreamed of playing soccer as a professional. Hailing from Rochester New York, Witkowski always had a ball at his feet, idolizing the games greats. “I loved watching both Zinedine Zidan and Ronaldo,” said Witkowski. “I remember having a tape and studying the likes of Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer and Marco Van Basten. I always thought that I had the ability to be a forward but my breakaway speed wasn’t there. I then realized I had what it took to become a midfielder,” finished Witkowski.
Coming from a family with a strong background in soccer, Witkowski said being a professional was the goal from day one. “It was always something we talked about at home from as early as I can remember. My father played professionally, my brother played at a pretty high level in Poland, got called up to the national team and was something I aspired too. My grandfather was a professional coach and my uncle also played professional so it was something in the family,” said the now assistant coach of Red Foxes.
Witkowski was noticed at both a high school and a club level. Originally scouted by the schools around the Rochester vicinity, he knew that playing on the collegiate stage would be a big step and possibly jump start his career. He decided to go to Marist not only for it’s size but what previous team-mates said about the school. Before committing to Marist, Witkowski not only racked up all state honors but also made some appearances for the U18 Poland National team. “The coaching staff made me feel comfortable and I felt apart of the team, said the former midfielder when asked about what made him pick Marist.
At Marist, Witkowski got the opportunity to show his skills on a larger scale and impressed while doing so. In his Freshman year as a Red Fox, he bagged four goals and gave one assist while being named to the MAAC All-Rookie Team. In his second season, Witkowski put his name on a nationwide scale after being nominated to the NSCAA Third Team All-North Atlantic Region and the MAAC All-First team. Additionally, Witkowski scored four goals and assisted three times.
During his junior year Witkowski started to get noticed by MLS organizations. “We played Virginia and their happened to be someone on staff at Virginia who was affiliated with an MLS team. We then played Fordham and I met my agent and we connected. I sent out and some film and my agent worked his magic,” said Witkowski. He took off during his junior campaign assisting six times, and scoring nine goals with four of those nine being game winners.
Going into his senior year, Witkowski started popping up on MLS mock drafts from pundits. After once again securing MAAC All-Team honors in his final season the Philadelphia Union drafted Witkowski in the second round of the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft making him the first player from Marist to get drafted. “It was great,” said Witkowski after being asked on the feeling of being selected. “The MLS is different from other sports because when you get drafted it doesn’t mean that you get signed. I was very happy to have that opportunity to showcase my ability in front of the Union while being aware that I could possibly be cut at a moment’s notice. It wasn’t until I signed that contract that I was head over heels.”
Soccer may not be the most physical sport, but just like most sports there are always risks. As of late there has been a big deal for leagues worldwide to improve their policy on concussions. A notable advocate has been ESPN analyst and former United States International Taylor Twellman. Twellman’s career was cut short after suffering a concussion due to a collision back in 2008. Twellman hung up his boots at the end of 2010 season. Similar happened to Witkowski’s career but before he could prove himself on the MLS stage.
“Many people think that the only way you get a concussion is if you get hit in the head. If your body’s hit with such a great force that can cause trauma to the brain,” said Witkowski. “I suffered so many concussions that it’s hard to tell you an exact number,”. “A few in High School, a few post High School and then there was the one with the Union that sealed the deal.
Just months after crossing his t’s and dotting his i’s, Witkowski was released. “I knew it was coming because I was out for seven to eight months and I knew it was going to be very difficult for the Union to pick up my option,” remarked Witkowski when looking back on it all. “I played for three months before suffering my injury. I didn’t make any appearances, just all practices and from there my symptoms intensified. I spoke to doctors and sadly thats where everything ended,” finished Witkowski.
Despite being forced to retire from playing the game he loves, Witkowski returned back to his Alma Mater and took over an assistant coaching role. “To receive guidance from a player of a different class was something else”, said Marist graduate and 2014 Marist Men’s Soccer Captain Matty Berman. “Some of the things he did with the ball motivated us to be better players. You can tell he has unbelievable talent.”
He may have been the only one to be drafted from Marist but Witkowski sees potential in the Marist program to produce another player. “It’s become more difficult now that academy soccer has come about,” said Witkowski. “A positive about the collegiate setting is that players are easily noticeable. I do believe that Marist will find another professional player.”
Even though it was a short spell, Witkowski did live his dream and signed a professional contract in the MLS but still encourages students to stay hungry and focused like he was. “You never know when things could end. Always stay focused on your studies and stay focused on soccer and play like it’s your last day.”