Former UK soccer star Irving takes ‘unorthodox’ path to pro ranks

Former Kentucky goalkeeper Callum Irving plays for Rio Grande Valley FC Toros in the United Soccer League.
Former Kentucky goalkeeper Callum Irving plays for Rio Grande Valley FC Toros in the United Soccer League. Rio Grande Valley FC Toros

When adversity strikes there are two types of people. Those who complain or accept failure, and those who push through it and find success despite the difficulties.

Now with the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros, former Kentucky goalkeeper Callum Irving has proved to be the latter by reaching the professional ranks in soccer despite not being chosen in the MLS Draft.

Irving has been well traveled since leaving UK.

His first opportunity away from Lexington was at the Canadian National Team camp. The call-up surprised him because he was not sure if he was still on the team’s radar after leaving to play at Kentucky.

“It was great. Obviously, it’s something that everyone wants, to play for their country or be in national team camps and be a part of that with some of the best players from your own country,” Irving said. “So to finally get the opportunity was great.”

It was his international status that actually turned out hurting him in the draft process.

After having some promises from teams, going undrafted, and then signing with the Chicago Fire for a short time, Irving realized that playing in Major League Soccer would be unlikely because of limits placed on the number of international players allowed per team. Teams typically use those slots on players that will appear on their 18-man rosters, and with Irving being a first-year player he was most likely going to be a third-string goalie wherever he went.

“It can be disappointing for Canadians a little bit, because in Canada it’s Americans and Canadians that are considered domestic. But in America, it’s only Americans considered domestic,” Irving said. “For me, it was a disadvantage a little bit.”

That left Irving with an “unorthodox” path to a professional career. He spent a few days with the Rochester Rhinos before having a former goalkeeper coach reach out to him and give him the chance to play with the MLS’ Houston Dynamo.

In Houston, Irving was basically part of the team’s practice squad, but the stint was also seen as a tryout for its United Soccer League team in Rio Grande Valley. He was in Houston until mid-April before joining the Toros.

Since he was a late addition, Irving had to wait some time before seeing action on the field. He has played in four of the team’s last six games. He helped the Toros hold on for a 1-1 draw against Arizona United SC in his most recent appearance on June 22.

While Irving is just now getting comfortable with the Toros, he has big plans and goals for his career.

“I would also love to play in Europe and get my foot in the door somewhere in Scandinavia. Whether that’s Norway, Sweden or Denmark, (it) would be a place that I would love to play as well,” Irving said. “And then just see where my career could take me over there. Soccer is something I want to be a part of for the rest of my life, so I want to see how long I can make my career last and play at as high a level as possible.”

Anthony Crawford: 859-231-1627, @a_craw_