DALLAS— Last year was a difficult one for Matt Tilley.
Prior to heading off to college, the 6-foot-1 defender from Lichfield, England spent most of his last season with the LA Galaxy Academy on sidelines due to various injuries. First it was an ankle injury, then it was a back injury. He was never was able to get in rhythm, and that shook his confidence a little bit. But it didn’t break it.
Now fully healthy, the 18-year-old is making the most of his guest appearance with the Galaxy Academy this week in the 34th annual Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup. A freshman at UC Irvine, Tilley is part of the Anteaters soccer program. He played in 17 of Irvine’s 20 games, 13 of them as a starter, showing no effects of the injuries that forced him to miss 19 of the Galaxy’s games during the 2011-12 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season.
On top of being healthy, he’s in shape
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as fit as I am now,” said Tilley, who credited his fitness to his coaches at UC Irvine. “As a freshman coming in, I played in every game I was in, unless I had a little knock here or there, and that’s because the trainers pushed me very hard to keep my fitness up.”
If he sounds excited, that’s because he is. Which is a far cry from where he was last year.
“It was the lowest point of his career,” said LA Galaxy Academy U-18 Head Coach Alex Yi. “But one that he appreciates and values so much as learning experience.”
Tilley said the 2011-12 Development Academy season was no fun.
“It was hard,” Tilley said. “It kind of hit my confidence a little bit. But looking back on it, I feel like I matured a little bit.
“It was a learning experience and I’m sure it won’t be the last time it’s going to happen in my career if I keep going.”
Tilley has played the full 90 minutes in both games the Galaxy have played at Dallas Cup, a 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany and a 2-1 loss to Fulham. He is one of four current college players, all of who previously represented the Galaxy Academy, on the roster for this tournament— Juan Cervantes, Grady Howe and Javan Torre from UCLA are the others— and Yi couldn’t be happier to see him out on the field again wearing the Blue, White and Gold.
“I could not be more proud of Matt,” said Yi. “He had a really, really tough time last year.
“You know, two years ago he was the backbone of our defense in that championship run that that team had (the LA Galaxy won the 2010-11 U-16 Development Academy National Championship) and last year was a little bit of different story for him. But to respond in the way he did, and show his value to UC Irvine as a freshman, had an enormous impact on our decision to recall him into the Galaxy.”
Tilley never expected to wear the Galaxy shirt again, but he was “excited” to do so.
“I kind of thought I had my time here and now I was moving on and starting over fresh so I didn’t really expect to wear it again,” he said. “But when Alex called me the first thing I said was yes, I didn’t really have to think about it much. It kind of got me excited to wear the jersey again, especially at Dallas Cup, it’s such a big tournament.”
Teammate and long-time friend Drew Murphy said it’s been great to have him back on the team here in Dallas. He added that having Tilley and Torre manning the back provide the team with a sense of security.
“It makes a huge difference, they are two solid defenders,” said Murphy. “And it makes your job easier.”
Tilley credits family, friend and coaches with helping him get through that part of his life as it was not easy and he did always see himself coming back the field at the same high level.
“Also, my desire,” he said. “I love the game. I would never really throw in the towel just because of a little set back.
“My mindset was always ‘keep going, keep going. Just play the game, you love it’ and then one day I would work my way back to where I was. I’m hoping that’s the track I’m on right now.”