NewsFeb 26, 2019

Embracing Versatility: Nick Lima

Fresh off his first national team appearance, San Jose Earthquakes defender Nick Lima looks back on his professional journey so far and discusses how the challenges he's faced have helped transform him into the versatile player he is today. 

Q: What was your path to the MLS like?

I started soccer as young as I can remember and then played all the way up through college. I played three sports in high school, with soccer probably being the lowest on the totem pole after football and track, even though I had a scholarship to UC Berkeley. I experienced an injury late in my career that actually cleared my head and I realized I loved soccer the most and that it was what I needed to pursue. 

Q: You've played a number of different positions in your career, has that been challenging?

When I got to college, I pretty much immediately got moved from attacker to defender, which wasn't easy. I had to realize that soccer was my first love in sports and that I just needed to buckle down and do what I had to do. I knew I needed to use my strengths that allowed me to be the player I am and leverage those. 

I played right back for the rest of my college career, and then moved on to the pros and signed with the Earthquakes in December of 2016. During my first season in 2017 I ended up playing a little bit of every position again. I also got called into my first national team camp last year, but didn't end up playing. I got called in again this year and got my first minutes with the national team and played a new position completely again. 

Through those difficulties,  you learn that it’s a rollercoaster ride and there’s always going to be a struggle, there’s always going to be chances to learn and you continue to develop and elevate your goals.  For me, it’s been all about segmentation and breaking things up into little pieces. 

When I get moved to a new position I start with 'What does this require of me?' If, for example, it means I have to get better with my left foot I'll focus on getting better with my left foot today and then by the end of the week I'll be even better. 

You have to just keep going up the ladder, one little thing at a time. I’ve become more versatile from all the change and it’s become one of my strengths. For the longest time I always thought I was the weakest because I was being forced to change positions, I was never just staying consistent, but really it can be a benefit and at the end of the day I got my first two starts with the national team because of it. I’m pretty happy with what’s happened, but there is always more work to be put in. 

It’s better to be ready and not get your opportunity, than to get your opportunity and not be ready."

Q: What's it like to find out that you're called into the national team camp? How does it happen?

For me, it's happened in two ways, and I’ve only been called into two. Last year it was an email while I was literally drinking a Mai Tai on the beach in Hawaii and I had asked my nephew to get my phone. I checked my email and I was like 'Well this is confusing, it says national team but I don’t know what that means.' Then this year I was at the Players Association meeting in Vegas and my GM called me saying he got notified and then I got the same email. It happens way before so you can prepare mentally and physically. It’s a fairly simple process, but it’s exciting and I don’t think that excitement will go away if it continues to happen. It’s the highest of honors in sports, playing for your national team and representing your country.

Q: What did it feel like to find out that you were starting against Panama?

My heart was pumping out of my chest when he officially announced it in film and went over the starting lineup, I’m pretty sure if you were looking from the outside in you could see the movement in my chest. In the lead up to the game, I prepared for playing a full 90 and for not even making the roster, I was doing the same thing regardless. There was a lot of excitement, and a couple of hours later when I was just in bed watching a movie the night before I had that realization of 'Oh, wait. I’m starting for the national team.’ All the nerves just go through your body and you get timid, but then that phase goes really quickly because there’s no time for that. So I went through it all. 

Q: You had an assist in the game, can you walk us through that moment?

There was a break off the corner, it came out and the guy was coming with some speed at me, but I could see he was taking big touches so I just tried to hold back, waiting for that one touch where I can spring forward and tackle. In my mind I think the first thing I thought was ‘I don’t want to run back, I don’t want to have to run for this.’ So I thought I would just run through him so I wouldn’t have to run back. I did that and then when you see Walker Zimmerman up front, you put it on his head. That's what I did with the cross and he had a phenomenal finish. It was pretty cool for the game to go fairly well.

Q: Was it difficult to find yourself in another new system and position again?

It happened at a good time, because with San Jose we knew were getting a new coach and a new style of play and then with the national team it was the same situation. I was also coming out of an offseason where I had just been training overseas with a different coaching staff, style of play and culture. So my mind was open to whatever challenge came my way, which in this case was playing a different position, learning different tactics and developing the mental and physical aspect as well as the technical aspect of the game. 

I felt ready for it, but that's not to say that I didn't have my fall backs or have a second of self doubt. In those moments I just had to go back to that beginning mindset of realizing we were all new here, we were all new to Berhalter and to this national team that is now the future and the present. It was an opportunity that I wanted to take advantage of.

Q: What is it like to play with a group of guys you are usually matched up against?

It was a lot of fun. It’s a change of scenery for everyone so there’s excitement and we’re all kind of in the same boat and experiencing the same thing.

When you compete against these guys sometimes they wreak havoc on you and you’re just like 'Oh my gosh this guy.’ Then, when that guy is on your side you’re like ‘This guy is amazing,’ and you build off their energy. I really enjoy playing with those guys because you see what they can do when you play against them, and sometimes that gives you a better understanding of what they can do when they’re on your side.

Q: Did you imagine getting to the national team level as a kid?

For the World Cup in 2006 and 2010, I missed school or any camps that  I had early in the morning to watch games. My mom had paid some ridiculous price for me to go to these camps, and my buddy and I had begged her to let us stay home and watch USA play. We wanted to see those games, watching and supporting the national team  was the thing for me growing up. One of the most exciting and emotional moments I've ever had was Donovan’s goal against Algeria. That was the dream that I had growing up and it still is.

Q: What would you say to a young player who has the same dream?

The first thing I’d say is, dreams in real life don’t happen overnight. They take years and decades, for me it even took a lot longer, I never had a look on the youth national team or anything. Never stop dreaming, but know that it takes hours and hours of preparation, sacrifice and sweat. It’s better to be ready and not get your opportunity, than to get your opportunity and not be ready. That’s been my mindset through it all.

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