NewsMay 31, 2019

Player Profile: Tristan Blackmon

Now in the middle of his second MLS season, Tristan Blackmon is starting to see the results of his dedication to the physical, and mental, aspects of the game. The LAFC defender shared his journey to his first MLS goal and what he's learned along the way. 

What has your path to the MLS been like?

I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. I started playing club soccer there when I was eight or nine years-old. My mom played soccer, so she is actually the reason I started playing. Vegas is kind of an oddball when it comes to soccer because there isn’t a lot of talent coming out of the area. A lot of talent from the West Coast is coming from California, Portland, those type of areas.  So, I found myself going to a lot of tournaments with my club team in Southern California to get exposed to some higher level competition.

I played soccer all throughout high school, and then went to the University of the Pacific, which is a  Division I school in Stockton, California. I was brought on as a part of an effort to reboot their program, so it was really cool to be a part of the rebirth of soccer there. 

Then, I was drafted by LAFC about a year and a half ago. The team did really well last year in their first year as an expansion club, and we’re doing even better this year. Because of that, getting minutes last year was tough, especially as a rookie.  

I ultimately was loaned out in the middle of the summer to Phoenix Rising. It was great for me to get games there and minutes because it was a struggle to get game time in LA. I was really excited about that opportunity because I hadn’t seen the pitch in a long time. In Phoenix we ended up winning the western conference finals, but ultimately lost in the USL Final. It was a great journey being there though and being with the team as they made it to that point in the season.

As a young player, what did it take physically and mentally to earn minutes with a top team?

This year, I had certain goals I set to become a better version of myself. I wanted to learn my position a little better and to become more aware of what was being asked of me. In general, I just focused on becoming the best player that I could be for the team that I’m on. In the beginning of the year I was playing center back for a decent amount of the preseason. I ended up getting an injury that kept me out a month. It was a little hard to catch up after that since everyone was already getting games and minutes in and I needed to get back to that level of fitness after recovering.

In this last little stretch though, it’s been great. I've been training with the team every day and this past weekend was my first 90 minute game in awhile. It felt really good to be out there in front of the home crowd and to notch my first goal. That was incredible and I hope to build on that the rest of the year and keep learning my position, whatever it may be, and keep helping my team whatever way that I can.

Can you walk us through scoring your first goal and what that moment felt like?

I scored in the 55th minute, so we had been playing for a decent amount of time before that. I was just trying to focus on everything that was in front of me and do my job the best that I could. Then, we had an attacking moment where we ended up getting a corner. We had been practicing positioning in the box and guys' roles in training during the week, so I knew that I had to get myself in a spot where I had a little bit of space to attack the ball. It ended up working out perfectly where I beat my guy, Carlos (Vela) whipped in a great ball to the space in front of me. I knew as soon as the ball left his foot that the space was open and I needed to get there. 

Thankfully I made a good connection with it and as soon as I turned my head to look back I saw it hit the net. It was kind of a surreal moment, you picture what it’s going to be like and then it happens and I think you kind of get shell shocked and overwhelmed with emotion. It was definitely a surreal moment that I’ll cherish forever. 

Throughout your first years as a player, who did you look to as a mentor?

You have your core group of people like family and friends, but for me my teammates really stepped up and aided me through the harder times. Especially Tyler Miller and Walker Zimmerman. I’m really close with those guys and they would tell me that 'Look this is what’s best for you, we’ve been in your shoes and you just have to keep going because this will pay off.' They were always positive with me about things, but also kept it real with me. I would say for me my teammates definitely impacted me in a positive way. 

What advice would you give to young players facing similar challenges?

You have to remind yourself that you’re here for a reason. You’re part of a team and they care about you and if they didn’t you wouldn’t be there. Often times I would try to remind myself of that and that I put in a lot of work to get to where I am. Obviously that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to do because, there’s always work to be done and things to improve on. But, your team has faith in you and I knew that from the beginning. It wasn’t always easy to keep pushing. It’s hard when you’re not getting minutes and you can get down on yourself as a young guy because you’re saying ‘I wish I was playing, I wish I was in the starting XI.' As a young player you can get in your head too much with the negative.

You have to keep doing the things that are asked of you and coming in with the  mindset that you are trying to grow and become the best player and version of yourself that you can be. It’s easier said than done, but it goes a long way when you show the coaches that you are there to work and get better as a player.

Follow Tristan on Twitter and Instagram