|Blake Pope, 18, realizes a dream with first professional soccer start|
|Played 53 minutes in Charlotte Independence win|
|Published Monday, June 14, 2021 2:00 pm|
|PHOTO | TROY HULL|
|Midfielder Blake Pope (35) earned his first professional start with the Charlotte Independence Sunday in a 3-2 win against Hartford Athletic. The 18-year-old played a career-high 53 minutes in the win.|
MATTHEWS—Blake Pope will never forget June 13.
The 18-year-old midfielder made his first professional start for the Charlotte Independence in their 3-2 win against Hartford Athletic. Pope, an alumnus of Charlotte Independence Soccer Club academy and FC Dallas academy, had previously come on as a substitute seeing 14 minutes over two matches. He played a career-high 53 minutes against Hartford. It proved the perfect scenario for Pope with the Jacks moving up to second in the USL Championship Atlantic Division (4-2, 12 points), toppling the last unbeaten side in their division.
“It’s been a dream ever since I was a little kid to play in my first professional game and obviously to start my first professional game has been a dream,” Pope said.
Head coach Mike Jeffries told Pope he would start on the right wing for the Jacks with over a day for the rookie to mentally prepare.
“After he told me I was like, ‘gotta get my mind ready,’” Pope said. “It is just going to be another game. I’ve gotta get out there and get my touches in. Obviously, the veterans out here just helped me like, ‘hey, just be comfortable. It’s going to be good. Get your touches in. We’re going to do good and get the win.’ Obviously, we did get the win. It’s amazing to do that.”
Said Jeffries: “I’m happy for Blake. I’m proud of him. For his first start, he didn’t show any butterflies. He came in and just did the job that was asked of him. He held up really well.”
Right back Clay Dimick helped Pope throughout the first half, telling him when to pinch in and get out wide.
“He was amazing during the whole thing,” Pope said.
Pope played with speed, which Jeffries said with a laugh, comes from being young enough to run forever. He rarely took more than two touches before passing and combined well with central midfielder Brandt Bronico.
“[Brandt and I have] been doing that in practice, so it kind of felt like second nature,” Pope said.
Pope’s father Brad Pope, who played at Maryland, has served as a mentor. The elder Pope advised his son to have fun and embrace the moment heading into Sunday’s match.
“He was like, ‘be yourself. Go play your game. Go have fun. It is your first opportunity [to start]. You are never going to get it back. Don’t have any pressure. If any fan is screaming your name, just be comfortable,’” Pope said.
Pope signed an academy contract with Charlotte in April, which allows him to keep his NCAA eligibility. He would become the first player to make the path to pro transition through Charlotte Independence Soccer Club to the USL Championship first team if he signs a professional contract. Pope de-committed from the Charlotte 49ers to pursue professional career now. He feels like he made the right choice.
“Making that decision was a huge decision for me and my family,” Pope said.
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