The Crew's 30-man roster was constructed via a variety of different mechanisms. Whether through trade, the MLS SuperDraft, a discovery claim or a Homegrown signing, the path to MLS is different for each individual player.
Even though defender Ross Friedman is one of seven Homegrown Players on the Crew's roster, he might be able to lay claim to the most unique path of all—one that culminates, in some ways, with his graduation from Harvard University on Thursday.
Friedman, just 22 years old and incredibly well-spoken, has shined both on the field and in the classroom at one of the world's most prestigous institutions. He recorded 56 appearances over four seasons for the Crimson, leading the team with six assists as a sophomore and recording 10 in his senior season. He signed with the Crew as a Homegrown Player in January. On Thursday, he is set to also receive a coveted Harvard diploma with a major in Government and a minor in Modern Hebrew.
CRAFTING A FUTURE
As you would expect, Friedman says the Harvard experience is exceptionally unique. Liberal arts-centric, the classes do not teach for a specific job—"we don't even have business as a major for undergrads," said Friedman.
"When I got [to Harvard], I saw that they take a more holistic approach to learning," said Friedman, explaining how the broad nature of his Government major benefited him by not locking him into a specific career path. "They don’t teach for a job, but they teach how to work, learn and think ... Those are the things that Harvard taught me. I could go into anything, but for right now, I’m just focusing and loving the soccer life."
The experience of being a Harvard student-athlete is different from that at many other colleges. For one, Ivy League institutions provide no extra financial aid or outside assistance for athletes, including tutoring, Friedman explained. For another, he had to balance the rigors of Harvard athletics with that of a competitive soccer schedule at a school that values and prioritizes both aspects of college life like no other.
"They treat the mathlete the same as the athlete at Harvard," said the Bexley native. "If the mathlete has a competition in California, and the teacher says ‘too bad,’ they’re probably going to have the same policy for the athlete, even though it’s a school-sponsored team.
"For me, I was thrown into this with no help and you have to go out, work hard and figure it out. At the end of the day, you’re better for it because you were working so hard and you’re trying to figure out your way through not only college soccer, but competing with some of the smartest kids in the world in the classroom."
ON THE FIELD
That's not to say that the Harvard experience wasn't beneficial for Friedman as a soccer player. The culture of his school and his team led him to look into the nuances of the game, as well as exposed him to some of the world's biggest names.
"We had Sir Alex Ferguson come into our locker room. We got to train for a day with Edgar Davids. We’re constantly being surrounded by such important and successful people," said Friedman. "You see how they go about things and then you transfer that into your profession."
A constant learner, Friedman made sure that access to a legend like Sir Alex Ferguson would not be wasted.
"For soccer, some of the stuff that I took away from Sir Alex Ferguson is the preparation, before and after. You would think that some of these guys are just so talented that they can just walk onto the field, but he was talking about guys like Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra staying after every day. Before training, they’re coming in, talking with the coaches and studying the game. This is an ever-going process.
"To be able to be exposed to these type of people who function at this high level and have such a commitment to their trade, you get to really learn things, take things away and implement it into your lifestyle."
PLANNING TO BE A PRO
Friedman believes that his strongest asset is his mind, which was on display throughout his rigorous final year at Harvard. Friedman signed with Columbus on January 8, 2014, and in anticipation of doing that, he registered for six classes in the fall 2013 semester, rather than the usual four, voluntarily undertaking more coursework during a time when his college team was in-season.
After completing that arduous schedule, he came to Columbus having to design a rather unprecedented route for himself in how to finish his degree while not on campus. He took an independent study, did research for a political scientist and taught himself advance statistics -- a subject area in which he had no previous experience -- but selected because it was feasible to take remotely.
"I studied the textbook instead of hearing the lectures, but at the end of the day I got through it and I didn’t have to come back at all. I was able to figure out my assignments from Ohio. The teachers were great, they worked with me a little bit, but I had to figure it out. There isn’t a path for students at Harvard who aren’t on campus, so I had to create my own path."
Turning in problem sets while plying his trade on the pitch, Friedman had the support of the Black & Gold every step of the way.
"The first question that Gregg [Berhalter] asked me before even talking about signing was ‘how are you going to finish your degree?’
"It speaks volumes to the Crew and how they supported me throughout me finishing this past semester," said Friedman. "That shows a lot for me, coming through the Academy system. They were so supportive of me competing at the highest level in the classroom and on the field."
Now that he is on the brink of earning his degree, Berhalter said he could not be prouder of his defender.
"He’s a young player who wants to get his career started, but he still has the goal of graduating from college in mind, which is important," said the Crew boss. "All during preseason, he was doing homework and his studies, and that’s impressive. It’s a good model for a lot of the guys."
Degree in hand, the sky is the limit for Friedman, who can now focus 100% on soccer while still having a bright future both on and off the pitch.
"I'm very grateful to the Crew and impressed with how they dealt with everything, even at the pro level. They really wanted me to finish this and let me pursue my academic interests as well."