As the referee prepared to blow his whistle, an unfamiliar face and name jogged towards the end line and took his place in between the pipes, steadying himself and calming the nerves. But with the first kick it became just another match, a schoolboy game played by the goalkeeper for years, only this time at the professional level.
When Blake Kelly was asked to come and train with the Real Monarchs of the USL Championship ahead of their upcoming game against Indy Eleven he had no way of knowing that he would be called upon to actually play.
This season many members of the Real Salt Lake Academy have earned chances to train with the professional side, some receiving playing time, while others simply relished in the opportunity to briefly live the life they one day dream to have.
For Kelly, a 15-year-old goalkeeper from Michigan, the week leading up to the game was his first time alongside the Real Monarchs, having spent most of last year with the U15 squad, but showed no signs of his youthful age.
Goalkeeper Coach Mirza Harambasic, who has been charged with bringing up the young goalkeepers at the Club, nurturing them into potential first team stars, saw in Kelly something worthy of a professional debut, even despite his age.
“Blake is a talented young goalkeeper who suffered an injury last year that kept him out for a while, but he has continued to improve,” Goalkeeper Coach Mirza Harambasic shared. “He is one of several young keepers coming up through the academy and we are excited to showcase them.”
Following the match, Kelly became the fourth teenage goalkeeper from the RSL Academy to debut with the Real Monarchs, joining Gavin Beavers, Jeff Dewsnup and David Ochoa, the first and second of which got their first appearances this year as well.
His start against Indy Eleven made him the youngest goalkeeper in USL Championship history to ever appear in a match. But for the Real Monarchs, goalkeepers making history has become the norm. Earlier this year Dewsnup became the youngest to record a shutout, while Beavers became the youngest to play in a match, a title Kelly himself has since taken. Additionally, Ochoa is one of the youngest goalkeepers to ever lift a USL Championship trophy, leading the team to victory at just 18 years old.
While the on-field result was not in favor of Kelly and the Monarchs, falling 2-0 at Indy Eleven, he was able to make three saves and one clearance in his professional debut, at just 15 years old. With history officially made it now becomes about getting better each and every day, following in the footsteps of those before him and continuing to advance at the professional level.