After the GameJul 31, 2018

After the Game: Bryan Byrne


On his way to a professional career, Bryan Byrne proved that it’s not about the boot, it’s about the player. Growing up in Ireland, the former New England Revolution midfielder remembered always playing in a lower class of cleat. “I didn’t have the expensive boots like my friends. I always had the cheaper boots,” he recalled. So, it may be somewhat surprising that he went on to build a second career on a passion for the game’s unique footwear as the founder of SoccerCleats101.com.

Byrne was born in Ireland and did not, at first, leap to the top tier of the youth game. “I was always the under-aged player that never made the more competitive teams in the area,” he said. But, he remained committed to developing his skills and was eventually able to secure a spot on a youth summer-professional league team. That spot allowed him to catch the eye of an unlikely suitor.  

“I was in the right place at the right time; my coach at the time had a son that was going to school at UC-Santa Barbara, and they happened to be looking for a player that was in my makeup and mode,” said Byrne. “They reached out to me, asking if I was interested in coming to America to play college soccer. I didn’t have too much knowledge of Santa Barbara, but they sold me on the idea of coming over.”

After graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a 2006 National Championship on his resume, Byrne was drafted in the third round (38th overall) of the 2007 MLS SuperDraft by the New England Revolution, where he continued to demonstrate his dedication to the game. “Always in the mindset of learning,” Byrne found a formative opportunity shadowing veteran Steve Ralston. 

“When I signed with New England, Steve Ralston was in the later stages of his career, so I was signed to be a replacement for his position,” recalled Byrne. “With this, I was able to watch him everyday. It was phenomenal to be able to watch a player of that quality. It still plays true in my career now. The things that I saw Steve do definitely influenced me.”

Byrne credits Ralston with more than just the quality, skill and intelligence he exhibited on the field. From Ralston, Byrne also learned off-the-field skills that that were transferable to his future career as a blogger and entrepreneur.

“He didn’t see me as a threat,” remembered Byrne, “he provided feedback on everything that I was able to do. I fed off that. He is one of those people that was a huge influence, not just in terms of my soccer career, but in how I approach things outside of the game… I take Steve’s approach, I want to be inspirational. I want to provide feedback that is useful to people.”

"The decision was extremely difficult to make, but I had to be honest with myself and that meant moving on and trying to create a career outside of the game.”

Despite being a dedicated student of the game and putting full effort into training, Byrne didn’t see much of the field during his time with New England. That lack of playing time, combined with the challenges of occupying a limited Senior International roster spot, led Byrne to a difficult decision. “I was taking up a senior international spot. I think there were only 2 available to each team at that point,” recalled Byrne. “Those designated spots were important to teams, and seeing as I was a bench player it was difficult to see another club taking a chance on picking me up. I did have some conversations with teams, but ultimately I took a hard look at myself and the challenges I had faced mentally being a bench player the previous season. It took a toll and I didn't see myself being a regular starter at the MLS level. The decision was extremely difficult to make, but I had to be honest with myself and that meant moving on and trying to create a career outside of the game.”

Byrne’s career in the MLS was brief, but personally impactful. Despite stepping away from his career as a professional after one season with New England, he still felt compelled to stay close to the game. “When I decided to pack it in professionally, I was wondering what was the next step for me, where I was going to go from there.” Byrne recalled, “I definitely thought about staying in the game as a coach. It was embedded in my brain as the next step, but I didn’t necessarily feel like I was in a position to be a coach for two reasons. One, mentally, I was not ready and two, I didn’t feel like I was prepared in terms of having the right licenses.”

From his time with New England and his experience with the game, Byrne knew he wanted to be inspirational and provide feedback and information people could use. Fortunately, he had friends that saw a path for him in the online business world around the sport and suggested that he put his passion and energy for soccer into a website. “So, I took a risk and a gamble,” said Byrne, “I created a blog that talked about boots, something I’m passionate about.”

“It turned out to be very niche, no one else was writing about soccer cleats or boots in the U.S.,” said Byrne of the project. “From there, it very quickly took off to the extent that I was reaching out to people, asking what I was supposed to do; how was I supposed to turn this into a business. I didn’t have much understanding of the affiliate world or online sales. So, I had to reach out to friends to help create a business plan to see if this was something that I could turn into a full time gig. It turned out to be something that I was successful at.”

Byrne, with the help of his network, created SoccerCleats101, an independent website designed to help soccer players, young and old, choose the correct cleats to suit their game by providing unbiased information. Byrne runs the site and produces most of its content. He also supports the project with an active and engaging social media strategy that centers on Instagram.

During the early process of creating SoccerCleats101, he heavily relied on another skill that he learned during his time with the Revolution: learning from others. Byrne picked up on unfamiliar concepts and strategies by observing people in his network. “I had no idea what I was getting into.” Byrne remembers, “I had no idea how to build a platform that people would use to get information. But, I had a bunch of friends in the industry that, luckily gave me great information that I was able to use.”

Byrne was a quick learner. Early on, he recognized the importance of social media to blogging, which he adapted into this business plan. His ability to adapt in a fast-paced situation is a skill that he attributes to his time in soccer.

“You have to be adaptable on the pitch. When you are playing or training, often times, coaches will ask you to play more defense, tackle more on the inside or switch you to the left. You have to be adaptable. I definitely found the same to be true with being an entrepreneur. You have to adjust very quickly to situations.”

“A soccer boot will not make you a better player, but it will hinder your performance."

By utilizing the skills learned from the game and his time with the Revolution, Byrne has built a successful brand. He has amassed a dedicated audience and an Instagram following of over 110,000. Relationships with major brands are also continuing to grow as the site’s influence increases.

“With some of the relationships that I have, particularly with Adidas and Nike, I will ask for the boot itself to be able to produce my own images, to hold the boot in hand and be able to test them for feedback,” Byrne said. “I think that is something that people appreciate. For me, it has always been about creating original content with honest feedback so that people can know what to expect, if it’s a product that they want to buy.”

For Byrne, it’s very important to maintain the approach of his former teammate, which is to provide honest feedback in his reviews. This is particularly important because he wants every young player in the game to understand that you don’t need the expensive cleat, you need a cleat that is comfortable, accommodates your style and brings you confidence.

“A soccer boot will not make you a better player, but it will hinder your performance. A lot of times, you will hear people complain about purchasing $300 shoes because it’s not about the shoe, it’s about the player. But, the boot does play a big role. You need a boot that is comfortable, accommodates your style and brings you confidence. If you have a $300 boot, you may feel more confident than when wearing a $100 pair of boots. That is not to say that the $100 boot is not as good, but mentally you need something that will make you feel more focused on the pitch when you play. But the biggest thing is comfort. If you can find a boot that is comfortable, it fits well and feels light on your feet- that is the key. You have to find a boot that you are comfortable in.”

In November, the website will be 10 years old and Byrne still isn’t ready to rest on his laurels. “I see that as a huge milestone,” he said, “and I've got some fresh ideas coming soon to continue pushing things forward. Hopefully it will still be around for a few more years!”

Byrne also has a few more irons in the fire. He runs a motivational poster business out of his home and is involved with a goalkeeper brand called Aviata Sports. “A key lesson I took from a career guidance class in college was that diversity is the key to success.” Byrne said, “Don't put all your eggs in one basket, instead take advantage of new opportunities that arise and never be afraid to explore new ideas.”

At the center of all Byrne’s effort is a dedication to family. His wife Alissa and their three children, Mckinley, Savannah and Austin are central to the choices he has made and the work he does. “The biggest blessing about everything that has happened since finishing playing professionally is the fact I have a job that has allowed me to be a stay-at-home Dad,” said Byrne, “That has been my personal crowning achievement. It hasn't always been easy, but they have been my motivation to keep things going, knowing I get the luxury of spending the hours I want at home with them. There are many challenges in trying to get work done and keep your business going with kids hanging off your legs, but it’s all worth it in the end.”

What is on the horizon for this young entrepreneur and father? “Well,” Byrne said, “U6 and U8 training starts next week, so you will find me on the field with my coaching hat on!”

You can read Byrne's reviews on SoccerCleats101. You can also follow SoccerCleats101 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.