HANOVER, N.J. – For many kids, the chance to play their favorite sport at the professional level is just a dream. But for Derrick Etienne Jr., it felt more like destiny.
A New Jersey native of Haitian decent, the 19-year-old has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks, as the world’s game continues to take him places he could have only dreamed of as a child. From academy product, to USL standout, to MLS newcomer, Etienne Jr. has always had soccer in his blood.
“My grandfather played soccer back in Haiti,” he told NewYorkRedBulls.com. “My father went to VCU and ended up playing for the Richmond Kickers and the Long Island Rough Riders. He actually had a trial with the MetroStars, but unfortunately he got into a car accident, so it didn’t pan out. He also had a twin brother that played with the Kickers and the Rough Riders, as well.”
Ever since his earliest memories, Etienne Jr. had dreams to be the next in line to step onto the pitch and make his presence felt. And while clichés are not meant to be taken literally as a rule of thumb, to say that he grew up with a ball at his feet is not too far from the truth.
“When I was in my crib, my dad would put at soccer ball at my feet and I’d constantly kick at it,” Etienne Jr. said with a smile. “He always told me that I didn’t have to be a soccer player; I knew he’d love me either way. But going to practice with him at a young age and seeing what a professional life in soccer was like, I knew I wanted to be a part of that environment.”
From a young age, Etienne Jr already had a leg up on most of his friends and classmates. On the pitch, he was a natural, and it should come as little surprise given his pedigree. Looking to follow in his father’s footsteps, there was little else to do but find the best place for a young Derrick to hone his skills.
From there, it didn’t take the Etienne Jr.’s long to settle in the Red Bull Academy system.
“Once I told my dad that I wanted to be a professional soccer player, he tried his best to put me in an environment that would get me there, and Red Bull was the best choice.
“It was a big shock to come to one of the best academies in the country. My first training was at the New York Jets facility, so I got to see what it was like being around top facilities and top coaches.”
Making the jump to the academy admittedly required an acclimation process for Etienne Jr., but it’s a process that has come to define his young career. Constantly looking to push his limits at each successive level, Etienne Jr. has faced his challenges head on, and his playing style has helped to make him one of the most recognizable and unique talents to progress through the Red Bulls’ system.
“I just want to create chances for myself and my teammates; it’s a big part of my playing style. I do like to dribble, but being able to beat my guy and put a cross in or get a shot off is the most important thing; I’m just trying to create for my team. I really take pride in being able to beat my defender and create for my teammates.”
His flair and altruism has served him well thus far, impressing a number of coaches along the way. Since joining the academy in his early teenage years, Etienne Jr. attributed much of his growth to the continuity throughout the system and the superlative staff that has pushed him along the way.
“The staff is amazing; they’re very understanding, very helpful. Working with Paul O’Donnell, Rob Elliott, Jeff Zaun, Phil Swenda, they’ve all been great. Then after John Wolyniec retired, having him come down and work with the academy and now with the USL team, it felt good because we have chemistry and he’s always been there to help me.”
“With the way things are set up, you understand your role, you know what’s expected of you, and that allows you to just go out there and just do whatever is asked of you. The style of play is slightly different with USL and MLS being two completely different leagues, but we still have the same goal in mind, and the same system.”
Now at the highest level, Etienne Jr. still has to take a moment every now and again to remind himself of the journey he has embarked on, and still traverses today. Still amongst the youngest players in the squad, Etienne Jr. has fond memories of a time when donning a Red Bulls jersey in front of the Red Bull Arena faithful seemed like merely a work of fiction.
“Being in the academy, I was actually on the field for the first game at Red Bull Arena,” he recalled. “Walking around the stadium and seeing all those fans, I knew I wanted to play there.”
With the introduction of New York Red Bulls II, Etienne Jr. was offered the chance to see a realization of those dreams. And on March 28, 2015, the Homegrown product reaped the rewards of all his hard work.
“To get my chance last season and put on that jersey, it was a dream come true. I always wanted it to happen, but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. It was such a surreal moment; I had to hold back my emotions so that I could actually go out there and perform. But sitting in the locker room afterwards and realizing that my dream had come true to play professionally, it was amazing.”
Though a member of the senior team, Etienne Jr. will still feature heavily for Wolyniec and NYRBII throughout the current campaign. Already an established player within the squad, the ostentatious young star will be looking for more ways to make headlines in 2016, and maybe just a handful of YouTube hits to go along with it.
“I’m going for five goals, five assists; that would be good,” he laughed. “Hopefully we’ll see a lot of stir the pot coming. I might hit them with a dab, you never know; it’ll be a surprise.”