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Ken Tribbett's incredible soccer journey puts him in starting lineup for Philadelphia Union

Ocean City alum didn't have any initial NCAA Division 1 offers and a few years later signed with MLS club

The Ocean City Nor'easters alum recently signed with Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union after an impressive preseason performance, and he was in the starting lineup in the team's season opener against FC Dallas.

Ocean City Nor'easters alum and Drexel University graduate Ken Tribbett trains with the Philadelphia Union. Photo: Sideline Photos/Philadelphia Union

This past weekend, Major League Soccer kicked off its 2016 season. With the beginning of every new season several players make their MLS debut. For every player it’s a journey and the story that led them to stepping on the pitch. Some are young, some are older, but for Ocean City Nor'easters alum Ken Tribbett, he’s young but brings years of experience and an understanding of the game in just his second pro season..

The Drexel University graduate recently signed with Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union and after an impressive preseason performance, he was in the starting lineup in the team's season opener against FC Dallas. It's been a wild ride for a player who started out without any NCAA Division 1 offers after high school. After working his way onto the roster at Drexel University, he came to Ocean City and was an PDL All-Conference selection in helping the Nor'easters win the 2013 Eastern Conference championship. Tribbett also played a big role in the Nor'easters' US Open Cup run to the Third Round where they upset the USL's Pittsburgh Riverhounds and narrowly lost to the Union on a goal in second half stoppage time.

His performance in college and in the PDL led to a contract with the Harrisburg City Islanders of the USL. He surprised many by finishing the season as the only player on the team that played in every game of the season, scoring three goals as a defender and being named a finalist for the USL Rookie of the Year award.

In January, Tribbett signed with USL expansion side Bethlehem Steel, which is owned by the Union, and after performing well in the preseason, the MLS side signed him to a contract.

Nor'easters women's team assistant coach Charlie Flowe spoke with Tribbett ahead of the Union's second match of the season, a tough road game against the Columbus Crew, last year's MLS Cup runner-up. He spoke with him about his time in Ocean City and his journey to the pros.

Charlie Flowe: This must be a whirlwind for you from playing in the PDL to MLS?

Ken Tribbett: Oh yeah, it's been it's been a journey. It's been a long crazy ride but I am happy where I am now and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

CF: There's a lot different tracks that got you here. You're from Colorado, right?

KT: Yes.

CF: How did you end up at Drexel University [in Philadelphia, Pa.]?

KT: It’s kind of a long story but I'll give you kind of the basics. I wasn't really recruited by too many schools, [NCAA] division one that is. I knew I always wanted to play division one. So my academy coach Eric Boucher called Drexel's Doug Hess who they'd known for a while. They're friends and said, 'hey you guys take a look at this kid.' So Doug Hess did and everything worked out after that.

CF: You got to play all four years at Drexel and just the experience of being involved in the PDL, what can you say about programs like that to help you get to the next level?

KT: Yeah, well both at Drexel playing all four years being able jump to that next level as a freshman playing with guys that are 21, 22 years old when I am coming in at 17 it made me really work on my technical and organizational skills because I wasn't as fast or strong as the other players. That's why I had to be one step ahead of them. Even then, the PDL was a whole other jump because you have kids that are wanting to be professionals so every day in training they're trying to get better, working harder and the level is even a step above.

CF: The PDL is such a great league because it gives you the opportunity to play in the Open Cup. You have played in this stadium [Talen Energy Stadium] where we are sitting right now where the Union play. You were here in 2013 playing against the Philadelphia Union. What was that experience like walking on to that field thinking, hey we got a chance here to play one of the better teams in MLS and the chance to beat them?

KT: Yeah, it's unbelievable. As a college kid, it’s your dream to be at this stage. So you're playing in front of a good crowd... five, six thousand I believe we played in front of. It’s a chance to get recruited as well. If you're playing PDL if you have a good game against the Union. now there's scouts [saying] 'we're going to watch this kid throughout his career' and fortunately it worked for me that I ended up playing in the same stadium, so it's been a long ride but it's all worked out.


Ken Tribbett with the Harrisburg City Islanders in 2015. Photo: Harrisburg City Islanders

CF: I think the interesting part about the PDL and USL teams is that a lot of journalists will think it's an upset when a PDL beats an USL team, like when Ocean City beat Pittsburgh [in the 2013 US Open Cup] and you took Philadelphia to the wire. Everyone laces their boots the same way. Is that how you approach games like that?

KT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean obviously we were the underdogs in that game but if you look at the quality of our team that year and our starting eleven, I think we had seven guys that went on to play professionally, 5 or 6 still play now so it's the experience we didn't have as much experience as them but we were hungry, we desired it and came out and gave them a really tough battle.

CF: In that game you played midfield, correct?

KT: I was in the midfield, correct.

CF: Now, do you have a preference because now you're playing defense with the Union. Is there anywhere you like to be on the field?

KT: I've kind of grown into this role over the past couple of years.

CF: So you've grown literally and figuratively!

KT: Well yes (laughing), I think so. I was midfield in college, midfield in PDL, midfield most of my life. I think that really helped me with my touch and being able to learn multiple positions so as a centerback I think my feet are pretty and I am able to organize in midfield because I know what's going through their heads.

CF: Now being in the position of a defender, now that look behind you there's a touch line instead of a player behind you is there a little adjusting going on?

KT: There's definitely a bit of adjusting, you can't really make a mistake because you're the last line of defense. Everything has to be that much sharper, that much better and more organized. I feel like you got to open your mouth more and direct guys in front of you.

CF: Now at Drexel, you were a sports management major. How has that major helped you playing in the pros and dealing with reporters like me?

KT: Well it's kind of cool because I kind of have an inside track compared to most guys that have only played. I have four years of college experience and classes to learn everything about the business side, whether it's ticketing, marketing, sponsorships or media. I think I have an advantage over other guys.

CF: Say for example, you weren’t playing soccer what would you be doing?

KT: I am not quite sure. Been a one track mind since I was four or five years old so I never really had a back-up plan. (laughing) Maybe coaching I guess.  

CF: Now you did some coaching with the Ocean City Nor’easters now how has that helped you become a better player.

KT: Coaching is an obviously different than playing because you have worry about tactics and organizational skills, how to manage your players opposed to just going out and playing . I think it helps you more mentally than anything.

CF: I want to thank you again for your time, appreciate everything and wish you the best of luck in your home opener and good luck on the road in Columbus.

KT: I appreciate it and thank you.

You can catch Ken Tribbett and the Philadelphia Union on TV this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. as they hit the road to face the Columbus Crew (TV - Philadelphia / South New Jersey - Live Well Network). The Union’s home opener is Sunday, March 20 at 2:30 p.m.

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