By David Harris
Andre Wilkinson is a goalkeeper from Barbados who starred at Lincoln University and is now continuing to develop his game while playing with Fenerbahce USA in the LISFL. He was part of the Fenerbahce team that recently won the LISFL’s 2013 Joe Goldberg Indoor Tournament. The quality of his play was noticed by many, along with his determination to succeed in soccer. Andre thinks he has what it takes to be a top professional goalie and perhaps someday he will. Recently, he took the time to share his thoughts on Fenerbahce USA, the LISFL, and his career to this point.
DH: How is the season going so far with Fenerbahce USA in the LISFL?
AW: So far in the outdoor season Fenerbahce had started out slow under the new coaching staff ,mainly because of new players arriving and old players leaving. That being said, we had a very rough start to the season being eliminated from the State cup and starting out in the bottom of the table. But after a couple of weeks the team stated to come together and the starting 11 became more consistent to the point where we are in the finals of the league cup and are in a position in the table to finish 1st once our great form continues. Winning this indoor championship will definitely be a moral booster going into the remainder of the outdoor season.
DH: What led you to join Fenerbahce?
AW: I joined Fenerbahce last year around September of 2011 after my friend Charles Crichlow (then player, now coach) had asked me to accompany him in playing for his team in a Turkish tournament in New Jersey. I had no prior knowledge of Fenerbahce, but I played for them in the tournament and we made it to the semi-finals before being eliminated. It was there that I won the goalkeeper of the tournament award. When the tournament concluded I was then invited to join Fenerbahce on a permanent basis where I would play for them in the LISFL.
DH: What have you enjoyed about playing in the LISFL and how does it compare to some other leagues that you’ve played in?
AW: What I like about the LISFL is that is a very organized and very competitive league that has the ability to produce players that can possibly go on to play at the next level as well as having those more experienced players who have played at higher levels before. I love the fact that it almost mimics the European format where football is played from September to May with just a short winter break. This way players can stay active in the sport for a long period of time where as in other leagues and college, soccer is only played during the summer or during the fall season/semesters. With the exception of college, when it comes to other leagues in which I have played in, I find that they are not as organized or as competitive as the LISFL. One league that is looking very promising in Brooklyn is that of the USSL League where their goal is to help young players get experience and exposure in order for them to have a chance at proceeding to the next level or to the collegiate level.
DH: Tell us about the time that you spent at Lincoln University, the best parts and the toughest moments of that experience.
AW: Being a player at Lincoln University was definitely a learning experience and most importantly a humbling one. Being recognized as the best goalkeeper to ever to put on a Lincoln University Jersey as well as finishing number 3 in NCAA division 2 throughout the entire country for saves per game were two of the most exciting points while attending college. Building a lifetime friendship with some of my teammates and being recognized not only from my school but from opposing coaches and opposing spectators was definitely a highlight throughout my career. I remember a time my team was losing while playing an away game and there came a point where the home crowd was cheering for me because of how good a job I was doing even though my team was losing.
As Captain, I always put the team on my back and always give each game my all. My only regret from playing at Lincoln was that we didn’t have a good enough budget to bring in better players to help us to be more competitive. There was a time where a season had to be cut short after just 6 or so games because we didn’t have enough healthy and eligible players to complete a roster. That was a very tough moment for the players and the organization. The school never really showed much interest in helping the program succeed or providing the necessary funding to build the soccer program into what it should have been being that soccer is the best sport in the world.
I am thankful though for the two coaches I met there in Coach Jallah and Anthony Pla who was the only person that has actually took time to help me with one on one doing goalkeeper training. He isn’t a coach I would say that specializes in goalkeeping, but it’s the little work we did together that has added to me being as good as I am today and added to me winning MVP for my last two consecutive years at Lincoln.
DH: What other teams have you played or trained with, tried out for, etc.?
AW: I have played for William E. Grady, my high school, I’ve played for a team called Rosedale that is located in Queens and a team I have had success with in the past as well was Barbados USA, located here in New York. I attended an open tryout for the Philadelphia Union as well as PSC.
DH: What was it like playing soccer in Barbados and how does it compare to soccer here in the United States?
AW: I came to America to live from Barbados in the summer of 2005. Prior to my arrival in the United States, I never really played soccer competitively or for any team. I only played for fun sometimes with friends. My main sport back then was cricket. It is only when I came to the states that I stated playing soccer and running track and it was my time at Lincoln that made me take soccer serious and made me realize that I was actually good at goal keeping. In high school I was mostly a track runner just playing soccer during the fall because I loved it more than cross country. Lol
DH: Going forward, what you are looking to do in soccer and with your life?
AW: Going forward, I want to become a professional goalkeeper. I know that with my dedication and my will to succeed that I can make it. I often heard people tell me in the past after seeing me play that I should think about going pro, I would make it. It’s only after constantly hearing this from more than one person that I said to myself this is really what i want to do for the rest of my playing career and I know once I make a team where I can practice every day with a goalkeeper coach, I can become one of the best in the world. My passion and love for the game and to be successful drives me to be better every time I step onto the field. My only concern is that I don’t have a coach locally that can really train me into being a better goalkeeper. Most of it is just natural talent along with the few things I learned from Coach Pla. But to play professional is my dream because I know I can be one of the best.
DH: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in playing the game and wants to become a better player?
AW: The advice I would give to a young player is that they should never quit. Never give up and never think that they are not good enough. One of my favorite quotes are, "the moment you feel like you want to give up, is the moment you are closer than you have ever been. " I would also tell them to make sure they watch a lot of professional soccer preferably from Europe and learn more about the game just by watching. Eat sleep and breathe soccer because that’s the only way you can succeed. Walk around with a ball in your house, walking the street, to practice whatever it takes because those little things help you get better and better. Be dedicated, disciplined and determined. Always be able to take criticism and always play with your heart but if there is one thing to remember is, never let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed.