Do you remember those portable TVs your teacher would roll into class?
When I was in elementary school, that's how we watched the U.S. vs. Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.
When Landon Donovan scored, the whole class cheered. It wasn't because there was a ton of soccer fans in my elementary school; it was pretty much if America scored, everybody cheered.
To be honest, we’re a big sports family, and with soccer, we gradually grew to fall in love with it. Growing up I spent a lot of time in the backyard playing. We had a lot of space and a nice-sized metal goal. I have two older sisters, Lizzie and Kate, and along with my brother Will, we'd spend a lot of time just kicking the ball around.
Back then, the yard seemed super flat - and it was a great field - but when I look back on it, it probably was kind of bumpy. But when you're a little kid, that stuff doesn't really matter, you know?
I also think I just watched a lot of soccer when I was younger. I think you can honestly see that a little bit in the way I play. I’m able to analyze the game and I’m pretty good at recognizing patterns. I think those skills come from watching a lot of soccer.
I used to wake up every morning and watch the Premier League games, and my mom would come down and we'd watch it together. Her enjoyment came from spending time with me, and doing something we both love.
I didn't really stick to one team back then, but I always got the jersey of whatever player I liked at that time. I actually had a few Yaya Toure jerseys, because he was my favorite player.
My brother Will pushed me to be better. We weren't always supportive of each other, like most brothers, but you know, the biggest thing that I've learned from Will is just, he has such a special ability to accept criticism and accept setbacks and move past it.
He's had his fair share of those. When we were younger coaches told him he was too little to play, but that never fazed him, he just kept pushing on. He's got an incredible work ethic, and I think he'll be super successful when he makes the jump to the professional level.
My whole family has been incredibly supportive of my dream to play soccer, but they've never been pushy about it. I think that's why I'm able to shake my nervousness off. My parents always told me to never get too high or too low, and just encouraged me to work hard for what I wanted.
I worked really hard to earn a spot on the U-15 national team.
I remember my first game for the U-15s; I honestly was pretty nervous. I was stood on the field at St George's Park, the training center for the English national team, ready to play against a top side. I thought it was brilliant. I got a sense of how special it is to be involved in a national team setup. You take the tour beforehand, and they've got all the pictures of the famous English players on the wall.
It was incredible for a 15-year-old to experience that, but like I said I was pretty nervous. It takes me a while to feel comfortable in a group - I was still getting to know my teammates. It’s funny though; when the whistle blew, the nerves just washed away. That’s always kind of been the case for me. I feel some nerves before the game, but then, when the game starts, I feel kind of normal.
When I look back on it, and I talk to people who played that game as well, they always thought I played super well and had a good game. That’s not always how I remember it, but maybe that’s just because I knew how I was feeling. We tied that game 2-2, and that still makes me proud.
When it came time to sign professionally for NYCFC, my parents still needed a little bit of convincing.
It’s kind of an unfamiliar situation to an American family. For my two older sisters and my brother, the path was, play soccer, get into a really good school with it, and then see where it takes you from there.
To pass up on college was kind of a big deal, especially from my area; pretty much everybody goes to college, no one plays professional sports. It was a big step. I love my parents, and I’m so thankful that they allowed me to follow my dream.
I remember when I was first signing, I’m in a room with Claudio Reyna and Patrick Vieira. I’m just, I’m ready to say yes, but my dad was the one who was asking tough questions and making sure they’re really going to look out for me. My dad has always been super helpful when I’ve had to make tough decisions in my life. He has an incredibly good perspective about those sorts of things. His advice is always especially meaningful to me for that reason.
Becoming a professional was another level entirely. When I got into the academy, it was kind of eye-opening how much of an influence a good environment has, because we just had so many top players on those teams.
Joe Scally, all the current Homegrowns, my brother, Dante Polvara, the list can go on and on, players who’ve all achieved a high level, whether it’s in college or the professional ranks. To be in and around them, it pushes everybody; it makes everybody motivated to reach their goals.
I like that the Club has always been straightforward with me. The day I signed with the First Team, they gave me a plan. They pretty much told me, ‘If you work hard and you develop the way we think you will, you’re going to reach your goals.' It’s happened pretty similarly to how they said it would.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t had setbacks. I’m very self-aware of where I need to improve. My parents have told me countless times that I’m often more critical of myself than other people are of me. I think it’s a credit in one sense; it really helps me get better. I’m constantly analyzing my games, looking at every little area I can improve, but then, on the other hand, I am pretty tough on myself.
I kind of think it had to be that way. I think I wouldn’t be playing at the level I am without that drive in me. As I’ve become more comfortable and started to become a leader, I can relax a little bit more in the sense that I’m not killing myself over every mistake, but I think that part of me --being driven-- will always be there.
When you're young, and you're breaking into the First Team, people get on you for every little mistake - you're overthinking it - stuff like that. I know that other people look up to me a bit now, especially the homegrown players. Ronny expressed pretty clearly that I should step up and start instructing the guys around me. I know ultimately that's what is going make me a better player.
Sometimes my struggles were out of my control, like when I fractured my foot last year. Injuries are one of the toughest parts of professional sports, but I think it's about being patient. I always feel like I'm on the right path and that I'm doing all the right things.
I think it's funny when people face a setback, and they say, 'Oh, I'm gonna start working super hard now.' For me, it's just, I'm going to continue to do the things that I've been doing, and, eventually, I’ll get back on the pitch the coaches will come around to it.
That's what I did when I was overlooked for the youth national team. I just kept on working.
Like I said before, that's something I've learned from Will. He's had some pretty bad injuries, and he always comes back stronger. I think there's kind of a renewed focus. He watches a lot of his games while he's injured, because there's not much else you can do. Then when he's back, he's got a plan, he's got his things to work on.
For me, injuries meant sessions in the gym. Usually, we'd have one of our strength coaches in there, and it was honestly pretty great because we could work one on one, play our music (it was a lot of J.Cole); it was kind of a vibe.
This season I'm on more of a mission. I think we've got a talented team that can make a run to the finals. I feel like there's something to be won. For me personally, I expressed pretty clearly that I want to keep pushing on to higher levels, and that's only going to happen if I’m super focused on doing all the right things.
Since they announced the Gold Cup roster I've gotten so many notes from my former teammates, friends in high school and middle school, and former coaches. It makes me feel like people are watching, and like I'm doing this for all of them.
I don't know if my first cap will come in the Gold Cup, but when it does, I think finally getting to that moment will be the result of a lot of hard work.
It'll be because of everything; the days in front of the TV with my mom, playing with my siblings in the backyard, talking to coaches with my dad, and time spent on the training field.
It's a dream that started in an elementary school classroom, and it'll make me super proud to be a senior U.S. international. But, like my personality, I know there'll be more to get done. It's the next step, not the last step.