Luke Sassano lived the soccer dream last season as he went from First Round draft pick to MLS Cup in just one short season. However, this year things have been much more difficult for the former Cal star as his MLS club, the New York Red Bulls have been at the bottom of the MLS standings all year. BerkeleySportsBlog.com caught up with the Orinda, CA star and asked him about the Red Bulls, his time at Cal and his love of Karaoke.
How has the season gone for the team and yourself?
“It’s been a real unfortunate season for us. We had a lot of high expectations coming into this season after getting into the MLS Cup last season. However, I think that we’re stronger and deeper this season and we had big expectations for ourselves but it took a little while for the team to gel. We had some injuries and the team went through a lot of adversity in the beginning. Once we got a couple losses, we dug ourselves in a deeper hole and it became really difficult to rebound. We’re at the point right now where we’re trying to end the season on a good note and look forward to next year.
For myself personally, I had an ankle injury in the off season that I got in the MLS Cup Final and it took me a little while to fully rehab and recover. I had another injury before the first game of the season. It’s been a real up and down year. Personally I didn’t meet some of the goals I wanted to playing wise. I think I learned a lot especially when we got Albert (Celades), I learned a lot from him, Seth Stammler, and Juan Pablo Angel. Just listening to them and I think this year has been more of a mental learning year. Sometimes things won’t go right for you but you’ve got to learn from the negatives and that is the only way that I can get stronger personally and for the team to move forward."
What do NYRB need to do to get better for next season?
“We have to work on our chemistry. Towards the end of the year it’s been great and the focus throughout the team and the organization looks really great looks really great going into next year. We also have to stay healthy, we had a few players out this year and we need to maintain that consistency on an everyday basis in training and on the field so we can develop that winning mentality”
What are your feelings on Red Bull Arena?
“I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be state of the art and something that no one has really seen out of a soccer stadium in the United States. We’re hoping that we’re going to bring in a lot of soccer fans in the area. We want to put a good product on the field and show some entertaining soccer but none the less I’m excited to play in a soccer specific stadium. I think whole organization, the team and the fans are excited for it.”
Is there any player that you like to emulate?
“I used to be an attacker in college but I got moved back to defense in the pros. I’m trying to learn how to play Defensive Midfield where I’ve been the last year and a half and one of the players I really like is Jon Obi Mikel from Chelsea. I love how Michael Essien plays but Mikel’s a guy I try to emulate, he’s a big guy who wins headers and is a great distributor of the ball who also breaks up plays. He’s a real fun player to watch."
How did it feel playing in front of your friends and family in San Jose a few weeks ago?
“It was great to be back home. It really means a lot to me to have people who supported me my whole life and always believed in me to come and watch me fulfill my dream.”
What’s daily life for an MLS player like?
“You’ve got to take it pretty seriously. It’s very easy to just believe that you need to train for a few hours and then leave but for the past year I’ve got some older mentors on the team who have told me that this isn’t like college where you can have an off day here and there. You’ve got to be consistent. Practice is truly a high stress environment which is fun but at the same time it is work. A guy has to go in prepared each day so that you can be focused on making improvements and carrying your team."
What’s it like in terms of celebrity?
“Celebrity. That’s a funny question. I haven’t really encountered what it is like to be a celebrity. I think there are some guys on our team most notably Juan Pablo Angel who will get noticed here and there but I haven’t been noticed in the public aside from the grocery store every now and then. It’s exciting to be playing for a fan base that is excited and pays money to watch you play. I don’t think too much about being a celebrity because that’s not at all what I am. It’s just nice to be a role model for the youth out there that looks up to professional athletes."
Would you say then that an MLS player is far more accessible to the fans than someone who plays for the New York Giants perhaps?
“I think from my experience, I think so because you can relate to the fans on a little more of a personal level because we have a lot more interaction between the fans. You want to be able to relate to your fans so they can relate to you and come out and support you. They’re the ones who make it so that we can even have a job. I think with how big other sports are in the country, it’s a lot harder for them to relate because they’ve been making a lot more money in football and basketball so you can make a little bit more an easy relation between a soccer player and the fan."
What was your Major at Cal?
How often do you keep up with your brother Evan Sassano and the rest of the Cal team?
“I talk to him every 2 or 3 days. Obviously, I follow the team all the time; they’re doing really well right now. I’m just hoping (Evan) can have a good senior year and hopefully keep playing and doing well because he’s a pretty talented player. We’ve got a pretty talented team, (Coach) Kevin Grimes has done a great job of building up the program from 10 years ago to where it is now. I’m really excited to joke with guys around the locker room on how well Cal’s doing compared to guys from Maryland and UCLA. I take a lot of pride in being a Golden Bear."
"I take a lot of pride in being a Golden Bear"
What’s the bond like between Cal players in the MLS?
“Me, Swiss aka Stefan (Frei of TFC) and AJ (DC’s Andrew Jacobson) are all good buddies when we played at Cal so we keep in touch. Same with Calen (Carr of the Chicago Fire) and Tyson (Wahl of the Seattle Sounders) who are a little older than me but we’re still good friends we try to keep in touch. We all try to talk to each other and give each other motivation, Calen just came off an ACL injury and made a great comeback to even step on a field again. We all keep in touch because it’s nice to have a little community that we all know each other from before and we can support each other."
What do you miss most about Cal?
“I think I miss the fact that you have no idea what to expect each and every time you walked on campus. Whether it was protest or someone making a speech, the streakers in the library, I think what I miss most is that student life and being around people your age. Everyone has their own aspirations and goals but everyone is working hard and there are so many different types of people. What I loved about Berkeley was how diverse it was. You could speak to anyone because everyone was so friendly but each person had their own story. I really miss being in that student community.
What were your hot spots at Cal?
“I was definitely a La Burrita man. I liked Chipotle but there is nothing like La Burrita. I went to Gypsy’s (Italian Restaurant) a bunch. I’ve been known to be spotted at Kip’s Karaoke every Sunday night back in my heyday. There is definitely a lot of great spots especially Barney’s Burger in North Berkeley. "
What do you do in your free time in New York/New Jersey?
“Actually, I’m 12 credits shy of getting my degree so I’ve been taking online classes this summer. I also volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club once every week or once every two weeks. In addition, I coach so I can give back to the kids. I really enjoy coaching and it’s great for me. Also, just basically enjoying the city because there is just so much to do here that at any given day you can just go out and do something. The only problem is that I haven’t been able to do anything touristy yet. I still haven’t seen the Statue of Liberty yet so hopefully I’ll get to that in the future.”
Always tryin' to be an inspiration for the Children.
What’s on your iPod right now?
“I’m really starting to like Alternative rock. One of my favorite bands, who have been pretty hot this year, is Kings of Leon. I just saw them in concert and they were really good. Honestly, before games I like to listen to Jack Johnson, a lot of people listen to pump up music but I listen to Jack Johnson because it puts me in a relaxed mode right before the games so that I can be on point before the game starts."
Keeping it chill before games
Any TV shows or Movies that you’re into right now?
“I love the Office; you can’t go wrong with that show. I just started watching Dexter on Showtime which is great. In terms of movies, I’m a big Edward Norton fan and I love action movies that keep you on your toes."