FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When asked how it felt to sign his first professional contract with the New England Revolution, Donnie Smith gave the typical rookie response. Honored to join the club. Grateful for the opportunity. Fulfilling a lifelong dream. Ready to get to work.
But Smith earned his spot on the Revolution roster precisely because he’s not typical. The 22-year-old midfielder brings a rare combination of speed and crossing ability to the left side, traits he used throughout a standout career at UNC-Charlotte before the Revs grabbed him early in the second round of January’s SuperDraft.
“When I was being recruited to college and then all through college, people said it’s hard to find left-footed players with speed and a little bit of height,” Smith said. “I knew that was a little bit of an advantage for me.”
“Donnie’s a unique player,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “There are not many guys who have his speed and pace and his ability to cross. He was high on our draft board and it was pretty clear that if he was there, we were going to grab him and we did. I think he’s proven in preseason that he’s ready for this next level.”
Smith appeared in all six of the Revolution’s preseason matches against MLS competition and impressed time and again with his ability to get behind defenders and whip balls into dangerous areas. His most noteworthy performance came in a 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls, when Smith drew a penalty kick for the game-tying goal before assisting on the game winner just six minutes later.
Those preseason performances were a boost for Smith, and not only because they helped secure his spot on the Revolution’s roster. Smith also gained a measure of confidence from those performances as he makes the sometimes tricky adjustment from college to MLS.
“The first couple games I was nervous just because I wasn’t sure about how fast it would be,” said Smith. “Obviously the game’s quicker, but it’s definitely encouraging to be able to see that I can still push the ball and get in some crosses, because that’s what I do and that’s my main game.”
Smith said the coaching staff has made it clear that they want him to isolate outside backs one-on-one and drive to the byline, while Heaps added that the next step for Smith is to incorporate his game into the Revolution’s system.
It’ll take a bit of time, but it’s a challenge Smith is eager to tackle with typical rookie enthusiasm.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said, “just working hard.”