Since signing with hometown squad Harrisburg City back in March, former Lipscomb soccer star Garret Pettis has worked hard to build his reputation as a hard-nosed forward and earn playing time for an Islanders squad that ranks fifth in the United Soccer League after 13 games.
Pettis, who exited Lipscomb as the school’s all-time leading scorer after last season, has fit in nicely with his new teammates. The 6-foot forward has appeared in 12 USL matches, garnering his first professional goal on June 1 against Richmond in a 1-1 draw.
Lipscomb Sports talked with Pettis about the transition to the pros, facing MLS squads and his improvement since joining his team.
LS: How has the adjustment been for you?
GP: It’s coming together slowly. I expected to have some growing pains, especially since I missed a lot of preseason activities due to school commitments. Now I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunities, which are coming earlier in games now.
LS: I’m sure scoring your first goal must have been a thrill.
GP: Such an amazing feeling. It had been a few games since I had really done anything offensively. I came on in the 77th and scored on what was close to my first touch. It lifted a weight off my shoulders and was huge for us, since it drew us even with Richmond in a game that was called due to lightning a short time later. As nice as just getting a goal was, making it count in a tight game was even better.
LS: You scored twice in a friendly against Philadelphia Union of the MLS. How much of a boost was that?
GP: It was a tremendous confidence builder. It was my first start; even though it was a friendly, it showed that I could capitalize on my opportunities and opened the door for more chances in the future.
LS: Speaking of facing MLS foes, tell me about Harrisburg City’s run in the U.S. Open Cup. How much of a role did you get to play in it?
GP: It was incredible for us. We showed resilience as a team and really opened some eyes. My first appearance was against New England on May 29 and it was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of. Tied after regulation, New England scored three goals in the first extra time period before we scored three in the games’ last ten minutes to tie it up before we won on penalty kicks. It was special to be part of that.
LS: How are you guys stacking up in the USL right now?
GP: We’re fifth right now, and most of the teams ahead of us have played a game or two more. We had a rough road patch that included losses to Orlando and Charleston, but we have some very winnable games ahead of us on the schedule. We hope to be in second or third before the play offs.
LS: You’re on the road a lot. How much of a physical and mental toll does that take?
GP: Traveling really zaps your energy level. I had never thought there was a competitive advantage to being at home, but not having to travel and spend time on a bus or plane or hotel room is an advantage, no question. I will say that it’s easier to focus on the road, but it’s very monotonous.
LS: What’s been the biggest surprise about this level of soccer?
GP: How important the little details are. There’s a lot of work, not just in practices but on your own to become better. You have to be self-motivated and you have to work out on your own whether it’s staying late after practice or just getting some time in the gym.
LS: Going forward, what do you have to do to continue playing at this high level?
GP: It’s important to remember the hard work that got me here and to focus on being a complete player. Coming out of college, I was solely focused on putting the ball in the net but here you have to value possession and know that the goals will come. I have to maximize that to be the best I can be.
LS: What did you learn at Lipscomb that’s helped you so far?
GP: I learned about chemistry and fitting in with the team and that’s been big for me in my first season here. It’s a team sport and we all have to work together. Like I mentioned earlier, the little things are more important than ever at this level and buying into a lot of what my coaches at Lipscomb taught me has been helpful.