From Swarthmore to Pro Soccer: Morgan Langley Discusses His Transition

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The Gazette’s Allison Ranshous recently caught up with Morgan Langley ’11, who signed with the Philadelphia Union on September 15 and on September 17 made his Major League Soccer debut during the Union’s 1-0 win against Columbus. Langley first signed with the Harrisburg Islanders last spring, where Langley appeared in 20 games and scored two goals. During the interview, the soccer pro discussed learning from his teammates, dealing with nerves, and playing in front of 20,000 fans.

Last time we spoke you had just signed with the Islanders. How was your experience in Harrisburg?

The experience in Harrisburg was a lot of fun. It definitely was a situation that allowed me to grow as a player. Overall, we had great team chemistry there, and we got to the final championship game [in the USL]. Unfortunately we lost, but it was everything I could have asked for in my first year with my first team.

How did you grow as a player when you were in Harrisburg?

The game is very different; it’s a lot faster than the college game. For me it was good to… grow and ease my way into things and make the leap from Division Three soccer into the professional game. I started to gain confidence and catch up with the speed of the game much faster. It allowed me to perform well in front of the Union coaches.

When did you first know that the Union was interested in having you on the team?

Well I had spoken with them back in January or December, through Coach Wagner, and understood their interest. And then there were months of absolutely no contact when I was focusing on my Harrisburg team. It wasn’t until a week before they signed me that they finally began to show interest in bringing me in. That was when there was real, tangible interest, at which point I could say “Alright, you know, this may be a possibility.”

How is playing for the Union different from your experience with the Islanders?

It’s 10 times the experience. Just to get on the bench and be in the stadium in Kansas City in front of 20,000 fans, and then to get my first appearance in PPL Park in front of 20,000 was just exhilarating. It was an experience where all the confidence below comes to you once you’re on the field with that many people watching. From the front office, to each player and their professionalism, is a very different experience for me. It’s a better experience that I hope I can continue to have, for a little bit at least.

Are nerves ever a factor? What was running through your mind during your first game?

When I was in Harrisburg, during the first half of the season I was really struggling with nerves, just feeling like “oh, I don’t know if I’m good enough to be a professional” and that was really for the first half of the season, until I scored a big goal for Harrisburg, until I gained my confidence. I kind of learned that nerves are just going to take away from my game. I would say that when I got to Philadelphia, you know, I was pretty nervous the first week. And the first game, just being in PPL park, I was very nervous the first 15-20 minutes of the game, but once I started warming up and by the time I had gotten into the game, I mean… I wasn’t as nervous, I was excited, I’d say, getting into the game at PPL. Being on the field gave me a lot of confidence, at least being able to complete a couple of passes.

Right now you’re on a team of standout players and young stars. Who do you look to for advice in transitioning to your role on the team? Where do you see yourself fitting into the picture?

You know, to be honest, I haven’t figured that out yet, where I fit into the picture. It’s a different situation, for sure, than Harrisburg, and that I’m absolutely in a more professional situation, like every morning we [the players] come in and shake each other’s hands. But I would say that I look up to a lot of the guys on the team. They’ve all been here much longer than me. Even Zach Pfeffer, he’s only 16 years old, but I still look up to him for a lot because he’s been here for a year longer than I have…he’s a year more advanced in the MLS than I am. He’s got a year more experience and so I can absolutely look up to him and I can look up to pretty much everybody on the team.

Who would I look up to in the long run? I think someone like our current captain, Danny Califf, an incredible individual and someone that I absolutely look up to. For the short run, with things as they are day to day, I look up to basically everybody on the team because they’ve been in the league longer than me.  I’m the newbie.

There’s a huge age difference on your team [from ages 16 to 40]. Is that a big factor on a professional team or is it all about the talent of the individuals?

ML: You know, it really is about the talent of the individual over the age. In Harrisburg, there was a big age difference also so it was the first time I experienced that. I think that the difference here [with the Union] is that I’m not the youngest person. There’s a lot of people who are younger than me, and you know, at 22 you’d think that I’m a young player, but there are a lot of 19-20 year old players on our team and one 16 year old, so from that standpoint it is different for me. But everyone seems to get along as if age isn’t really much of a factor. It’s kind of cool because you get all different kinds of perspectives and the leadership in the locker room from the guys who have been in the league for longer, as well as just the young guys who are up and coming stars. It’s a fun situation.

It must be so different from your experience here [at Swarthmore].

Yeah, absolutely, you just have the freshmen and the seniors—that’s the age gap.

So I know you just signed and it’s pretty early on, but where do you see yourself going from here? Any big goals?

ML: Absolutely. As a dream, you want to play in the MLS and play professional soccer, but the key word is to play. Obviously, it’s awesome that I got my first appearance under my belt, but my goal is that I want to play in the MLS, and I want to play in a sold-out stadium. I’m not just satisfied just to sit on the bench in that situation. And it’s gonna take time and I still have to develop before I can reach that point, but, I was in the same situation my freshman and sophomore years in college. I wanted to play, I wanted to produce, and so this challenge is not new to me by any means….You can never be satisfied by where you are. My goal is to become a regular, for sure.

What’s a day in the life of Morgan Langley like?

ML: We get in around 9:30 AM or so, and from that point on we do treatment in the training room and then from there, we have a regiment posted on the wall—soft tissue exercises for stretching, weight room for lifting, things of that sort – and from that point we either head to Chester Park or PPL park and we do that for a couple of hours and then we’ll come back and depending on the day there might be a lunch or not. It’s about a four-hour process, 10:00 to 2:00.

What’s the best part about going pro?

It’s just incredible being in this situation. But the best part, to be completely honest, being able to spend four hours of the day [at practice]. There’s always a lot of pressure, and you have a lot of stress, but I enjoy coming to practice every day. Now I’m able to do this professionally, and so that’s cool because that’s something, for myself and for many other athletes, I can love and do as a job.

Which home game should Swat students come out for to support you and the Union?

On Thursday we have a big game against DC United. We’re close to the end of the season and close to the playoffs. From first place to sixth place, I think all the teams are within four points of each other, so one win or one tie can definitely change things up. But DC United just being a part of the Eastern Conference will be a huge game for us. It would be a huge swing for either team to win.

You can catch Morgan Langley and the Philadelphia Union at PPL park this Thursday vs. DC United at 8:00 PM and on October 15 vs. Toronto FC at 4:00 PM.

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