Of all the factors that go into a successful career, timing is a critical, though often overlooked, quality. Talent and work ethic are acquired, but more subtle factors can also come into play. This can be the day a coach pointer has taken hold. Or a time when a player has been seen by the right person.
Sometimes these factors come together, at which point the player acquires rocket fuel which propels them to greater heights. That’s what turned out for LAFC defenseman Tristan Blackmon.
In his case, the venue was Edwards Stadium in Berkeley, California. It was spring 2016 and Blackmon, along with his University of the Pacific teammates, was set to play Cal in what was ostensibly an ordinary scrum. For most of the neutrals in attendance, the toss was Cal and US junior international goalie Jonathan Klinsmann. Except Blackmon and his team had something to prove. After relaunching their football schedule in 2014, the Tigers were emerging from a brutal 1-15-1 campaign and Blackmon, having spent most of his life as a forward, wasn’t just coming out of a season during of which he scored only two goals, but was trying a new right-back position.
It wasn’t the easiest sale for then-coach Ryan Jorden, but Blackmon was ultimately won over.
âAt first I was a little rebellious about the idea,â Blackmon said over the phone. “But that spring I made a full commitment to do it. I just joined fully and really wanted to help my team in any way I could.”
Blackmon was a revelation that day, pushing the right flank up and down while continuing to perform his defensive duties.
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âIt looked so good,â said Jorden, now the men’s head coach at UCLA. “[Blackmon’s] the natural instincts that manifested themselves were formidable. His ability to do the defensive side of the game was very good. And that was one of the things where you sit there, watch it go on, and you think, “This is really going to be fantastic for him and for us.”
It turned out to be the right position switch at the right age and from there Blackmon has grown steadily. UOP made the NCAA tournament that year and after his senior season he was drafted No. 3 overall by LAFC in the 2017 SuperDraft MLS. He has been a consistent contributor for the Black and Gold ever since, even. if it has switched between the right rear and the central rear.
“He continues to grow as a player,” said LAFC manager Bob Bradley. “We saw some very good starting points, [and we] knew that his level of experience would take some time. He is very athletic. And now the idea that he takes the experiences and continues to be more confident, to have a bigger role, these are the things that we are working on. He’s still able to play as a right back in a four back row, play as a center back in a four, or play anywhere in the back, if you’re playing three. So he’s versatile in those areas, and we think there’s even more out there. “
The three Musketeers
After a three-week hiatus, LAFC resumed their championship schedule on Saturday with a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo. The timing allowed some players and staff to reconnect with the family to celebrate Father’s Day.
It’s a holiday that isn’t usually high on most people’s lists. There are bigger and bigger celebrations. But for Blackmon and his father, Peter, this day holds special significance. Tristan’s parents separated when he was 7 and for four years Peter raised Tristan and his brother Preston on his own. Peter then remarried and had two more children with his wife, Kandice. And while Tristan’s mother Makaela is still a part of his life, the bond between Peter and Tristan is especially strong.
âWe were called the Three Musketeers,â Tristan said of the time Peter raised him and his brother as a single parent. âMy dad has been by my side all the time, through the ups and downs, getting fired when I was little, trying to defend himself and build character in different ways. He’s the role model for me. J Learned a lot from him, not just in football, but in life for sure. He’s my best friend. “
Peter remembers that Tristan “didn’t cook a meal,” but eagerly took on the role of big brother. And his son always wanted to celebrate Father’s Day with and for his father.
âNow that I have some money I’m trying to get him some cool stuff,â Tristan said. Nowadays, that means his father – a Seattle sports enthusiast – has memories, be it a Ken Griffey Jr. jersey or one from Shawn Kemp. But even in his youth, Tristan was keen to celebrate that day.
âHe was always good at pulling out the pencils and drawing a picture,â said Peter. âThey know what I like to eat for breakfast, so they would try to put that together. But Tristan loves spending time, which we consider as a family to be the ultimate pleasure, having the six of us together. in law .”
That will be the goal this weekend as Peter and his three other children – Preston, Kingston and Olivia – will be in attendance for Saturday’s game, followed by a meeting the next day.
“He needed to be cuddled”
Father and son laugh at the fact that the first few times Tristan set foot on a football field, he had to be bribed. The LAFC defenseman was only four at the time and didn’t prefer the scrums that tend to happen when kids are just starting out in the sport.
âI was scared to play and go out and kick the ball with the kids,â he recalls. “And I just remember my parents always trying to get me out, trying to give me something to look forward to. So if I scored a few goals, maybe they would take me out looking for a toy.”
His father, Peter, recalled that the only reason Tristan was there was because his son couldn’t play baseball until he was 5 1/2 years old.
“He didn’t warm up in football right away,” he said of his eldest son. âHe needed to be cuddled, but we wanted to get him into something.
Yet, as is the case with so many people around the world, Tristan eventually became addicted to football, so much so that he eventually gave up baseball – his other favorite sport – to play football full time. For some players, it’s the joy of winning that grabs them, or maybe learning a new skill. For Tristan, it was about the group.
âI have always been fascinated by how a group of different guys, from all types of different backgrounds, whatever you call it, could come together with a common goal and kind of forget everything that was going on. in life, getting together, having fun and kicking a ball. I think that’s how it started. [full-time] role, it was kind of an escape for me to go to practice. “
The elder Blackmon, a big fan of baseball, quickly got over his disappointment with Tristan’s choice, especially as his son rose through the youth ranks in his hometown of Las Vegas. The young Blackmon achieved this through the rather archaic system of the Olympic Development Program and college track, as opposed to the US Soccer’s Development Academy, but Tristan’s motivation was from another world.
Peter, who works in telecommunications, remembers that in high school the two attended a college fair for aspiring college athletes. The presenting colleges went to great lengths to clarify how long the odds were that a high school athlete would get a scholarship, in order to better set realistic expectations. Tristan didn’t want it.
âI remember he said, ‘These guys are crazy. I’m going pro. That’s what I want to do,'” said Peter.
This is where Tristan landed. Bradley believes Blackmon’s future is at center-back and cites Real Madrid legend Sergio Ramos’ career path as an example of a player who started out as an outside-back before moving up to middle.
âI think the next step is to consistently show more consistency, more competitiveness, more confidence,â Bradley said. “If we can fix those issues, I think he has great potential. But that’s where we always challenge him the most.”
Blackmon’s life has been full of obstacles. He’s overcome just about every one of them so far, and that bodes well for the future.