When Rob Lovejoy arrived on campus at Chapel Hill he was a freshman looking to find his way and for guidance. What he found was Kirk Urso.
Urso was a junior when Lovejoy started at the University of North Carolina and was on track for a career in professional soccer that took him to the Columbus Crew before he suddenly passed away in August 2012. In his words he and Urso “didn’t have a special relationship.” Instead it was a relationship where the young winger could learn how to be a standout soccer player that grew over time.
“He was a guy that was two or three years older than me but coming into college there are guys you’re looking for and it’s the same situation I’m in now,” Lovejoy told MLSsoccer.com. “You just look up to guys and watch them and watch their lifestyle and what they do on the field. You try to pick up little things that they may not be able to tell you and learn from observation. That’s what I did with Kirk.
“In time we built a stronger bond with each other and I kept up with him pretty regularly until he passed away,” Lovejoy continued. “To this day I still talk with his family. He really meant a lot to me and to be able to wear [Urso's college] number three is such an honor to be able to represent him and what he stood for.”
Now starting his professional career with the Houston Dynamo, Lovejoy’s going through the acclimation process once again.
He has come from second round 2015 MLS SuperDraft pick to edging out other players when the club needed an early sub against defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy last weekend in a 1-1 draw on the road. When he entered the field for his second appearance of the season for the Dynamo he had the same type of examples as at UNC.
“That was unlike any environment I’ve ever played in before. There was an adjustment period even within that game,” Lovejoy said. “I remember one specific point in the game … Brad pulled me aside and said, ‘You’ve been playing very well in practice, you’ve proven yourself already, you don’t need to come in here and play timid. Go express yourself, enjoy it.’
“I still remember a preseason scrimmage that I started the game on the left side with him behind me and you’re looking over your shoulder and the guy I grew up idolizing is giving me commands on the field.”
Coming into camp Lovejoy had the same feeling as most college players entering the league. He had no contract and was heading into a situation where five weeks of preseason would determine how he made his livelihood.
Instead of worrying about his tenuous situation, he decided to simply come to Houston and “have fun” knowing he could be cut at any time.
The winger quickly caught the eye of coaches and players alike. His north-south style stands out and is only accented by his work ethic.
“There’s a rawness to his game we’re trying to hone and fine tune,” Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle said. “The thing I love about him when he’s come on late in games he has that positivity about him. He’s going to go and drive at people. Whoever plays against him they’re going to know they’re in a game. The kid’s always going at it and that’s great to see. I believe, potentially, the scope for that kid is huge.”
Lovejoy, who admits he gets questioned about his namesake Reverend Lovejoy from "The Simpsons" two or three times a month, has earned two appearances in three games and with Houston slated to miss as many as multiple starters due to either international call-ups or injury those appearances will likely continue.
“He’s going to come in and definitely put the opponent under duress,” said right back Kofi Sarkodie. “Now he has an opportunity to go and be the guy the gaffer sees and be able to take guys one-on-one and use his speed to get service in.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.