As a professional athlete, you need to be constantly aware of the fact that you can be called upon to step up and help your team at any moment.
In the Houston Dynamo’s matchup against the Inter Miami CF last Saturday, defender Ethan Bartlow was the one who was called upon, and he more than delivered.
The sixth overall pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft was a highly touted center back coming out of the University of Washington. In his final season for the Huskies, Bartlow was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and earned All-American Second Team honors.
He was expected to contribute to the Dynamo as a rookie. However, a concussion, as well as a few roster changes prevented him from playing for the first team last season. Instead, he played most of last season with the second team.
Last year’s second team was the Dynamo Academy U-23 team. This season, the team introduced Dynamo 2, a second team playing in MLS NEXT Pro, a league that is designed to bridge the gap between the academy level and a first-division professional league.
Bartlow started in the team’s inaugural match on Saturday, March 26 against Whitecaps FC 2, and played the full 90 minutes in what was his professional debut. The team won that match and kept a clean sheet, in part due to his stellar defending.
Among the onlookers in the stands were Dynamo general manager Pat Onstad and head coach Paulo Nagamura. Bartlow was asked after the game if having the team’s top decision makers there put any additional pressure on the players to perform.
"I don't think it's pressure, I think it's an opportunity and I cherish that, to be able to have those eyes on me,” Bartlow said. “And we had a great game tonight. The performance from the guys was great and they took notice of that.”
They certainly did take notice of the team’s performance, and of Bartlow in particular.
With some of the team’s regular center backs out for various reasons against Inter Miami CF, Nagamura called on Bartlow to go from making his professional debut for Dynamo 2 one week to starting for the first team. According to Nagamura, the decision was an easy one to make, in part because of the impressive performance he displayed with Dynamo 2.
“Look, it was an easy decision for me. I watched Ethan with the second team last week,” Nagamura said. “He did really well, so once we found out that we could miss (DF) Daniel (Steres) on the team I think it was an easy decision and again Ethan stepped up big time and had a very, very good performance.”
For Bartlow, making his MLS debut was a dream come true, one that he said he credits his teammates for helping him get through smoothly.
“It was an unbelievable feeling. I have so much respect for my teammates for getting me through that,” Bartlow said. “It wasn't easy for me, there were definitely some shaky moments at least early on. But a dream come true. I kind of had this moment three minutes in where I just kind of looked up in the lights and kind of realized I'm here.”
Not only did Bartlow make his debut, but according to his coach, he played a high-quality game.
“Look, for me I think Ethan was one of the players of the match,” Nagamura said after the match. ‘I think he had a very, very good game. I think he was solid. He was good in the air, very good in positioning. We are very, very pleased with his performance today.”
Not only did Bartlow stand out in his debut performance, but he even got to share the experience with his loved ones, thanks to some last-minute planning by his mother.
"My family lives in Seattle but she was planning on being down in Houston this weekend,” Bartlow said. “I talked to her on Wednesday I was like, ‘Hey I'm probably starting on Saturday.’ So, if you can make it down to Miami and get your flight changed, that'd be awesome."
She did make it down, and after the game the two exchanged some very special words.
"She just said how proud of me she was and I just told her how much I loved her and, thank you for everything."