One of the most promising strikers in Major League Soccer (MLS), the best soccer league in the United States, is former Salt Lake Community College student Justin Braun. Not only has Braun succeeded in the MLS, but he has also seen time on the United States’ national team and has hopes of playing in the World Cup in 2014.
Braun is a Salt Lake City native who joined the SLCC soccer team immediately after graduating from Skyline High School. He attended SLCC from 2005 to 2007 and graduated with an associate’s degree in general studies in 2007.
In his young professional career, Braun has had many coaches, but SLCC soccer coach Enrique Velasquez holds a special place in his heart.
“Enrique has been the coach that has impacted me the most,” Braun said. I owe a lot to him and (SLCC soccer trainer) Leo Vega. Enrique turned me into the player I am today. I can’t thank him enough. I will always be in debt to him, not only because of the impact he had on my soccer career, but of the impact he has had in my life.”
Coach Velasquez remembers perfectly the day he saw Braun at SLCC’s soccer tryouts.
“It only took me five minutes to see the kind of player he was,” Velasquez said. “I asked Braun, ‘Do you know how to play?’ And he said, ‘Should I teach you?’ He was an intelligent playmaker, striker and winger. He could play any position he wanted.”
After his time at SLCC was over, Braun spent several months recording all of his highlights. He sent his highlight video to many of the college soccer coaches in the nation with the hope of being recruited by one. Braun never received a call from any college or coach, but he never lost hope.
In 2008, Braun was admitted to the University of Utah and was ready to begin the business program since his soccer dream seemed to be fading away.
Just days after Braun started classes at the U, he made a trip to a soccer tournament in Los Angeles with his former team, the Utah Select Team (USL), a group of the best players in Utah. Braun’s mom Judy, who happens to be a professor at SLCC, said it probably was going to be Justin’s last trip with the USL because he knew soccer opportunities were not coming and he needed to continue his education.
Justin had a great tournament in L.A. and a stroke of luck, as former MLS coach from Chivas USA, Predrag “Preki” Radosavijevic, happened to be there.
According to Braun, Preki was trying to recruit another player he had heard about, but he was dazzled with Braun’s performance in the tournament. Preki felt that Braun had the abilities to succeed in the MLS and didn’t hesitate to invite him to Chivas USA’s soccer camp, where he asked Braun to drop all his classes at the U without any guarantees that Braun would make the Chivas USA first team.
At the camp, Braun demonstrated his skills and Chivas USA offered him a professional contract.
“Justin basically came from nowhere and he was in the right place in the right time,” Judy Braun said.
She gives credit to two factors for her son’s soccer development, the SLCC soccer program and the fact that his older brother Nate played soccer as well.
“He never really played for fancy team,” said Judy Braun, noting that some of her son’s former teammates couldn’t afford soccer jerseys and her son learned more about humbleness and diversity than anything else from his former soccer teammates.
“He learned more than just soccer, he learned to appreciate other cultures,” she said.
Despite his success, Justin Braun hasn’t forgotten about his time at SLCC.
“Most of my memories are of playing soccer with the team where I met lots of amazing people and it was one of the best times of my life,” he said. “Many of my close friends came from SLCC soccer program.”
Braun said that he is very thankful to Preki and the Chivas USA organization, where he scored more than 24 goals in his four seasons.
The 2012 season has brought Braun some new changes. He now will be playing in Canada for the new MLS expansion team, the Montreal Impact, where he will have to adapt to a new country, city and language. Braun said that his French is terrible and he’s still picking up new words every day. Despite the adjustments, he said that he and his new team have high expectations in their debut season.
“The goal is to make the playoffs. Anything less than playoffs will be seen as failure,” Braun said.
Far from failure, Braun’s success has been his humility and his commitment to whatever is best for his team.
“He is not an individual player, he’s a team player,” Coach Velasquez said.
Braun encourages SLCC soccer players to never give up.
“Every time you step on the field, give it your all and never walk away feeling that you didn’t,” he said. “Hard work pays off and you never know who is watching. My story is a prime example of this.”