Tuesday, January 20, 2015, was a life-changing day for Orlando City goalkeeper, Earl Edwards Jr. In Philadelphia, MLS debutants Orlando City drafted the UCLA product with the 1st pick of the 3rd round in the MLS SuperDraft. It was somewhat of an interesting moment according to a chuckling Edwards, “I was actually coming out of the Holland Tunnel [into New York City]. We were driving into the city; my girlfriend was in the back seat and my mother was driving. My girlfriend pulled up Twitter and saw that I had been drafted, so my mom pulled over and we started calling friends…it was an exciting experience.”
Fast-forward and Edwards now has nearly nine months under his belt during his rookie campaign. As a goalkeeper, he has the one player ahead of him on the roster, two-time MLS All-Star Tally Hall impressed. “He is one of the most athletic guys that I have trained with,” said Hall. “It’s kind of fun working with that as kind of a training partner because he is going to push me. He has a very good career ahead of him, and he is going to be very good.”
Head Coach Adrian Heath agreed with Hall’s assessment. “We have a very good goalkeeper. He has a lot to learn, but he wants to learn. I think his work ethic has been exceptional. He is working very hard, not only in terms of goalkeeping but improving his feet, improving his body shape and strength. The kid has a great future and if he listens, and if he learns. If he gets a break at the right time- because we all need that- I think he has a great opportunity.”
Edwards was born in San Diego, California into a sports-oriented family. His father, Earl Edwards, was the athletic director at East Stroudsburg University and then UC San Diego. Soccer was a natural fit for Earl. His older brother, Yohance, played college soccer for Brown University and his older sister, Jasmine, played for Rutgers University. However, it wasn’t until Edwards was thirteen that he realized soccer was his calling, “At 10 or 11 I was pretty bad because I played the field [in soccer]. I played basketball growing up mostly. Then a keeper quit during a practice, when I was 12 or 13, and they threw me in goal. It was a pretty smooth transition from there.”
The young soccer prodigy was well recognized in his teenage years. Edwards Jr. featured for the United States U17 youth national team during the FIFA U17 World Cup in Nigeria. During that tournament, he started every group match (against Spain, United Arab Emirates, and Malawi) and also started the round of 16 match against Italy. Edwards emphasized the positive effects the youth national team had on his career, “The whole residency program was a great experience for me. I think I really excelled there and was able to go on to UCLA. Getting the youth national team experience really helped me mature as a goalkeeper.”
College would be the next step for the rapidly growing talent. Edwards committed to play soccer for the UCLA bruins over offers to play football and basketball. “UCLA was a great experience. I stayed longer than I initially planned,” admitted Edwards “However it ended up being the best thing for me. I ended up getting an education and got to play behind Brian Rowe [LA Galaxy] for a couple of years, and learned a lot from him...it was a great experience for me to mature as a goalkeeper. It’s more about age sometimes than your ability, so I think it was good for me to get that time in there.”
The many experiences and challenges that Edwards has faced throughout his career has certainly paid off thus far in his rookie campaign. Edwards has been called upon by Heath on four occasions this season, and has played extremely well each time. His shining moment came in a June U.S. Open Cup match against the Charleston Battery when Edwards’ save in the 10th round of the penalty shootout ultimately resulted in the Lions win, and advancing to the Round of 16.
While in the midst of a hectic rookie campaign, Edwards hasn’t hesitated to start giving back to the Orlando community. He recently took a trip to Arnold Palmer Hospital to meet with patients and staff — he even brought along scarves and hats to make sure everyone felt like a part of the team.
Now Edwards finds himself on the training field every day – working with some of the best in the league and training for when he might get the call. But foremost, he continues to learn, for that career opportunity that will undoubtedly befall him and call him to the starting XI. All who know and have worked with him are sure of his destiny, and Edwards' work ethic and commitment points to that future.