On Tuesday, Forward Madison revealed veteran goalscorer Jake Keegan as its new striker for the 2021 season. To get a better feel for who he is, we sat down with Jake to ask him about his career.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jake Keegan, you are the newest member of Forward Madison FC. You are the first new player signing of Forward Madison’s 2021 season. Welcome to Wisconsin!
Thank you! I actually have not officially come there yet, but I’ve spent a couple of days there. Over the last two years we’ve had three games [against Forward Madison], and the first one with Greenville was your home opener in 2019. That was the snow game. I remember warming up, we had to shovel everything just so the ball would move, but then it was an unbelievable atmosphere. I’m hearing that’s very Wisconsin.
It’s good to be here. It’s good to sign. I can’t wait.
I wouldn’t mind a snow playoff game next year, to be honest with you!
Maybe like an inch. Let’s keep the ball rolling a little bit.
It was a fun game. It had that atmosphere that, hopefully by the end of this year, we can have back in Madison again.
I’ve been impressed from afar, in 2019 especially, with the supporters’ groups. I’ve been impressed with how they engage with the players and also how you guys have built up your club in terms of your very unique branding. It’s something that’s very exciting to be a part of. It’s something important in lower-division soccer, that you find a way to make yourself unique.
Let’s face it, maybe I’d be a big signing in League One, but no one is. No one’s a Messi, no one’s a Ronaldo, so fans aren’t buying jerseys and doing things for the player all the time. It’s very important for the club to be unique.
Absolutely. Jake, now that you’re here with us, I wanted to go back and tell your story a bit so fans can get to know you. Can you tell me about how you started playing soccer?
Here’s a shameless plug - I started a podcast, the Aristocrats Soccer Podcast, and we did a two-part thing on my career. I’ll answer this in short, but if you really want to delve into it you can check that out as well.
I grew up in New York, I started playing soccer when everybody else does, around the age of five. My dad, he played in college, so he introduced me to it. He was my coach from a young age. We were lucky enough that I played for the same youth team from when I was eight to 18.
Everything in New York, people think of New York City, but that’s not where I’m from. [Stormville] is an hour and a half away from that. It was a great place to grow up. It was before the academy days, so I played high school soccer, I did all those things that kids today don’t get to experience.
You went on to play at Binghamton for college soccer. Obviously you did very well there, because you were drafted by the Philadelphia Union in 2013.
For me personally, it was a great experience. I got to play right away as a freshman. The coach was really good to me - Paul Marco, he’s still there. It helped me prepare for the next level because for four years I played every single game, I got to be the ‘face of the program.’ That led me to be, like you were saying, the first player in Binghamton’s history to be drafted.
Jake Keegan scored 28 goals for Binghamton University, the most during its Div. I era | Photo via Binghamton University Athletics
You were drafted by Philadelphia but didn’t end up playing for them. Can you tell me about the early stages in your career, first in the lower reaches of Germany and then as a prolific goalscorer in the League of Ireland?
In Germany that was the sixth division. I only played there for the first half of the year, so three months. At the time, it was just an opportunity. I knew I wanted to get out, I knew I could play at a higher level. There were probably eight teams that I went on trial with and I got turned down by all of them, so I was like, I’ve got to be playing games somewhere.
It was just a weird stroke of luck to get to Galway United in Ireland. It was honestly probably the best period in my career in terms of personal performance, although Greenville was great too. Galway was a great time.
You were one of the top scorers in the league, right?
Yes, I was. The first year, we got promoted from the second tier to the first tier, and I was one of the top goalscorers in the second league. We went up to the top tier and I think I was the third-top scorer in the League of Ireland. We ended up playing in a cup final as well. It was a lot of fun in Galway.
Do you have any specific memories from that time in Ireland that stick out to you?
There’s a couple. In the first year with Galway, it was a home game, it was the rebirth of the club [following bankruptcy], it was close to a sellout. It was a very good crowd, and right at the start, they started chanting, ‘USA! USA!’ I was the only American on the field, so I knew it was for me, but I didn’t expect it. It was something that kept happening throughout the two years. When I’d score: ‘USA! USA!’ When I did something bad and they were trying to encourage me: ‘USA! USA!’
That was my name. If I ever got recognized in the streets, it wasn’t ‘Jake,’ it was ‘USA.’ That was definitely a cool part about it. Irish people - at least Galway people - love Americans.
The other moment I’d choose is when we got promoted. The last game was at home, we won 3-0, it was pouring rain on Halloween night. After that, they called the guys and they went on a four-day bender. I’m not the biggest partier. The game was on Friday, and on Monday guys were not doing anything besides going out.
It is Ireland, they have a reputation over there.
I remember our ‘keeper, he was standing up on a table. He took his shirt off and was like, ‘We are going up!’ He just kept chanting all the songs. It’s an experience that you don’t get in America [without promotion and relegation].
Keegan scored 17 goals in 2014 to lead Galway United to promotion | Photo via Connacht Tribune
So your success in Ireland eventually leads you back, not to the United States, but to North America with FC Edmonton in 2016. That was a team that had been historically poor, but during the time you were there, they really had a tremendous couple of seasons.
I went there and I knew Edmonton was never near the top of the table. It’s also the longest travel; you’re basically at the North Pole. Imagine taking a flight from Edmonton to Toronto to New York to Miami to Puerto Rico; it’s absurd. Again, I knew what I was getting myself into, but that first year in 2016, we had a very good group of players. We had a point in August where we were top of the table, ahead of the Cosmos and Miami FC and their budgets. We fell off a little bit, but we still made the playoffs.
Following your stint with FC Edmonton, you ended up returning to Ireland in 2018.
That was the year the NASL folded, so there were all these good players who needed USL jobs and there wasn’t League One yet. There was a surplus of players and not as many jobs. I really didn’t have a choice but to look abroad. I had offers in Australia and Ireland, and in the end I’m glad I went back because Dublin (with St. Patrick’s Athletic) was a completely new experience. I was able to live right in the middle of the city. It was a great setup.
It’s funny, then, because it meant that the first time you signed with a club in the United States was after you’d already played for five different teams in your career.
That was the funny part when I came to Greenville - I hadn’t played for a team in the U.S. since Binghamton!
That’s the next phase of the story, isn’t it? Coming to League One and getting on the path that sets you to Madison.
Yeah, at St. Pat’s our coach left and the new coach didn’t want to retain me. Luckily, even before the season ended, there were a couple teams from League One reaching out. When you get a Facetime call from John Harkes, it’s tough to turn the guy down. He reached out, and within a few weeks I’d signed with Greenville.
That period was very successful. The first year we lost the final, and then this past year, I know there was no final, but I think we were far and away the best team in the league. Sometimes it’s time for a change, though, so that’s what I’m looking forward to in Madison.
Keegan scored nine goals during his first year with the Greenville Triumph | Photo via Greenville Triumph SC
It was successful personally as well - you scored a lot of goals as a striker. I’m not going to call it a curse, but we’ve had a lot of good players at the 9 role who haven’t scored a lot here…
I think expectations are good. If you come into a place and no one expects anything from you, it’s a lot harder to get opportunities, and in return, to have success. It’s a similar situation to Greenville the first year, where there’s a new coach and a lot of new players. It’s an exciting time for the club because we have a chance to re-create the on-field culture, and I hope I’m a big part of that.
Speaking about that culture, what influenced you to come to Forward Madison? What part of it being here as a member of the away team and getting to experience the atmosphere?
Yes, definitely. The times we played there in 2019, and even last year in Wauwatosa, even that was a decent atmosphere. When we played here in 2019 it was awesome. I thought it was the best atmosphere in the league. In terms of the supporters’ group, the gameday atmosphere, and all of that. The last piece to come into play now is to get the on-field side of it to the top of the table.
We need goals! We’ve been very good defensively, but the struggle has often been putting the ball in the back of the net.
In fairness, even Greenville struggled at that during the first year. It can be the style of play - the attacking players could be asked to defend a lot, for instance. It’s a delicate balance, and I’m sure Carl [Craig] will help us as players in figuring out the right way to play.
Speaking of Carl, I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to chat to Coach Craig yet about what your role will be this year.
We talked before and after I signed. He wants me to come in and score goals. I always look at it as my job to help the team score. I, personally, would like to be the one scoring them, of course, but there are a lot of ways for strikers to be effective. Say we have a winger who’s banging in a lot of goals, that’s a good result as well. My goal for next year is to help us score as many goals as we need to win games.
Is there some difficulty in planning for next season due to the uncertainty around start dates and home stadium?
I learned a long time ago that you have to roll with it and control the controllables. Even when it’s a normal year, you don’t know if the coach is going to pick you to play, if you’re going to be on the bench, or if you’re going to fall out of favor. There are so many different variables that go into it. It isn’t changing how I prepare for the season. Whenever we start, we’ll be ready for it.
Do you have a message for the Forward Madison fans?
The first thing I would say is that I respect you. We beat Madison in a big game in 2019, and fans came up to me and said, ‘Well done, good game.’ It was such a fun atmosphere to play in, and I respect what you’ve done to build the club to this point. It’s a very supporter-driven club.
It’s a great club and I’m looking forward to being a part of it. I’m going to give everything I can.”
Jake, I think I speak on behalf of our fans when I say that we’re really excited to have you here and can’t wait to watch you on the field.
I look Forward to it, and I’m looking forward to meeting all the supporters, players and front office as well.