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Mr. Smith returns home with the Charlotte Independence
Charlotte alum Donnie Smith to start at left back
 
Published Saturday, January 20, 2018 8:25 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Starting left back is Donnie Smith’s position with the Charlotte Independence.

The Jacks announced their fifth signing on Jan. 15, which answered their outside back questions in response to Richmond signing former Charlotte starter Austin Yearwood.

“That’s as simple as it can be,” coach Mike Jeffries said. “We had Donnie in last year on a number of occasions, and we thought he did very well for us. He’s a very talented player who gives us a lot of the qualities that we really want out of that position.”

Said Smith: “Personally, when I come into preseason, I’ve been working my hardest to stay sharp and fit. I’m joining with the guys this morning. I know they’ve been working out hard. Going in fit, trying to earn that starting role, and from there I’m going to try and keep the left back position for as long as possible, and try to stay healthy.”

Smith’s deal arrived just in time for Christmas. It served as both a holiday and a wedding gift, as he and his wife Alivia tied the knot on Dec. 29 in Lancaster, South Carolina before heading to Jamaica for their honeymoon. At family dinner, their relatives joked they “brought the weather” from New England, as several inches of snow fell on Charlotte last week.

“It’s kind of weird,” Smith said. “I had dinner with my parents and we were all kind of joking that we brought the weather down here with us when my wife and I moved down here a few days ago. I’m used to the snow sticking around for weeks at a time before it has melted away, and the snow was kind of melting away. I’m happy for that.”

Smith’s history with Charlotte extends beyond his 12-game loan from New England (MLS) last season, in which he tallied two assists in nine starts for the Jacks. He grew up in Charlotte, attended Charlotte Catholic, played for Charlotte Soccer Academy and Charlotte 49ers under coach Jeremy Gunn, who led them to the NCAA tournament final, and current coach Kevin Langan. New England selected Smith 21st overall in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. He left Boston with five regular season starts and six appearances with the Revolution and started at center back for New England against Charlotte in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which Charlotte won.

Smith underwent surgery to repair his groin in 2015, and spent time with Rochester (USL) on loan in 2014 and 2016. His stint with the Independence was the most playing time in his professional career, and checked an item off his bucket list—suiting up for the hometown team. As a kid, the Charlotte Eagles were that team, and he would often attend their games at Waddell High and Charlotte Christian.

“One of the factors personally for me was, where can I go that I’m going to be able to play as many games as possible in a season,” Smith said. “Last year when I came on loan, I had a great relationship with all three of the coaches on the staff. I enjoyed getting to know the guys, and the style of play that Charlotte has. It kind of checked a lot of boxes for me. It’s home for me.”

Charlotte’s style dictates outside backs get up and down the line throughout the game. Smith referred to it as “bombing on,” which helps allows him to run onto the ball in space, rather than adjust to receiving a ball with his back to goal.

“The coaches wanted me to get high up the field, which really suited me as a player, and an attacking kind of outside back,” Smith said. “I think we were super dangerous on the counter.”

When he’s off the field, Smith is a dedicated dog dad.

“My wife and I got a dog a couple years ago,” Smith said. “She’s actually allergic to most animals. We had to get a hypoallergenic dog. [Pat] is part poodle and part cavalier King Charles spaniel in him.”

Rather than come home and play video games, Smith spends time with Pat.

“He’s a handful,” Smith said. “He’s got an attitude of his own. It’s almost like dealing with a little child. He’s always yapping, and wanting to do something. That really keeps me busy off the field.”

Smith would often hike in Boston, but as a Charlotte native, he knows a few trails other than the obvious ones like Crowders Mountain in Gaston County.

“In Boston, we had trails minutes from our apartment,” Smith said.

Yet the return home means more than spending time on the trails around Davie Park—one of his favorite areas to explore as a kid. It means having his parents over for dinner, a first as an adult.

“I hadn’t ever had them over for dinner since I’d been out of the house,” Smith said. “That was a cool experience.”

Catch Donnie on Sports Charlotte: https://soundcloud.com/herb-white-the-charlotte-post/the-interview-donnie-smith

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