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After spending most of the 2018 campaign with Sporting KC’s USL affiliate, the Swope Park Rangers, center back Graham Smith has started the last two games for Sporting KC as the club fights through a number of injuries.
FloFC sat down with Smith ahead of Sporting KC’s matchup with the Vancouver Whitecaps and discussed everything from hiking in Colorado to staying consistent. Smith, 23, played collegiately at Denver and Oregon State and was drafted with the 18th overall pick in the 2018 MLS Superdraft by Kansas City.
FloFC: What do you like about where you grew up, Highlands Ranch, Colorado?
Graham Smith: I like the outdoors, the city [Denver] is kind of growing. Just outdoors, there’s so much stuff to do that is special to that area.
Hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding. What have you been drawn to?
Hiking the most. I’ve never been a big skier or snowboarder. I just never really got into it when I was younger. I feel like it’s one of those things where you have to get into it when you’re younger to actually enjoy it.
In the past five years, you’ve played for four different teams in three different leagues. How does that affect your mentality as a player?
I think with all those variables you have to kind of hone down on internal things. Things that you can find confidence in yourself. There’s three things I always focus on: my positioning, my workrate, and my mentality. Keeping those three things across four teams, it gives me confidence regardless of the situation.
With the USL and MLS, you’ve played a lot of different teams. Is it hard when you’re not only playing with different people but against so many different opponents? Or does it help you?
I mean it’s different. Obviously the opponent is always going to be different but playing between Sporting and Swope for example, it’s a little bit easier of a transition because of the styles are so similar, so there’s not a huge crossover. You’re not being asked to do an entirely different thing when you play with Sporting as opposed to when you play with Swope, so that’s a benefit.
When there’s other Swope players that come up to Sporting, how do you look to be a mentor to them after wearing the captains band in many of their games?
I know all of those guys. Just being open. If they have any questions, if I’m the one they want to come to and ask, I’m open and honest with everything that I have learned and am learning. Just passing that on to them if they need it.
Being on the outside of the injury situation and jumping into it midseason, did that have an effect on your confidence?
Not really. The same thing happened last year, I got a couple of games around this same time. I had that experience to kind of lean on. It’s tough when an organization is facing injuries like we are right now.
The USL has grown with expansion teams like New Mexico United. Now FC Cincinnati is in the MLS as well. How have you experienced the sport grow over the last few years?
New Mexico is awesome. I went to college with two guys that play there now [Sam Hamilton and Ken Akamatsu] so I follow them. I think the community is just rallying around them, that’s their big tagline. I think the MLS, USL, and just soccer in America is kind of symbolic of that in the sense that they’re reaching out to the community and you can tell that the clubs that involve the community are doing really well and get a lot of support.
I’m sure you grew up watching the EPL. What was it like to match up with Wayne Rooney for the first time against D.C. United?
Growing up playing soccer, that’s the one league that everybody watches. If you watch that league, you watch Wayne Rooney and you watch guys like that. Playing in that game, it was just a normal game in the moment, but afterwards when you’re shaking hands it's kind of surreal.
Was it kind of a culture shock? Knowing, not only you’re older as a player but you’re also experienced enough to match up with someone like that?
Yeah absolutely. It’s just steps in the development and you can kind of take little snapshots and recognize that from time to time. That was definitely one of them.
Obviously there’s been a lot of injuries affecting your defense. What’s something you want people to know about Sporting KC’s situation?
We’re just working. We’re working to get out of this slump — if you want to call it that. We’re just working to get back to the form that we know we can.
Andrew Rosenthal is a sports writer based in the Kansas City area. He studies journalism at the University of Kansas. Find him on Twitter.