The pressure was on goalkeeper Russell Klabough.
A spot in the 2016 Premier Development League Semifinals was on the line as Midland/Odessa Sockers FC and the OKC Energy U23 finished the Southern Conference Championship with a 0-0 score line and began the penalty shootout.
What happened next was nothing short of incredible, as Klabough made four massive saves to lead his side to a victory and a conference title.
Seven months later, Klabough signed a contract with the United Soccer League’s Reno 1868 FC, and on March 25, he will begin his first season as a professional.
“I enjoyed it in the PDL,” Klabough told USLPDL.com. “I got to travel to Texas, where I played for the Midland/Odessa Sockers, and the experience introduced me to a faster style of play and helped me grow with the game. The whole traveling aspect of the PDL was very exciting. We won our Southern Conference and that was a great experience for me. It helped me grow enough to keep advancing my career.”
The netminder played four PDL regular-season matches last summer, recording 13 saves while guiding his team to a PDL Playoffs berth. Klabough, who competed for NCAA Division II program California State University, Stanislaus, saw the PDL as a proven “gateway” to the USL and Major League Soccer. As someone who continues to look for avenues to advance his career, he made the decision to join the league for the 2016 campaign.
“I would say it prepared me by giving me a higher level of experience,” the goalkeeper said. “Every player has those nerves going into a higher-level game. You have more fans and the games are weighted more heavily. It provided me a whole new level that I didn’t experience in college.
“The biggest advantage is getting used to a higher intensity of play,” he added. “It’s a much faster game in the USL, and the PDL can bridge that gap very well. It gives you more comfort going into higher leagues because of the speed of play.”
While experiencing a different level of competition served as a main reason why Klabough was interested in participating in the league, the national exposure the PDL provided was also a key factor.
“I think it’s very important [for non-DI players to play in the PDL], especially because people overlook DII, DIII and even NAIA,” Klabough said. “There is so much talent in each of those divisions. I was forced to go into DII because of my eligibility and I was fortunate to be scouted by California State University, Stanislaus. The PDL allows players in these other divisions to show themselves to higher leagues who would normally only look at DI athletes.”
If the 2016 PDL season was seen as a test for Klabough, he certainly aced it, especially with the spotlight on him in the Southern Conference Championship.
“Russ is a big, talented keeper that has a lot of potential,” Reno 1868 FC Head Coach Ian Russell said after signing the 22-year-old in February. “I’m looking forward to seeing his growth this year.”
After the summer Klabough had, it’s no wonder Russell is excited to see how the goalkeeper progresses. Klabough, himself, is excited to see where 2017 leads.
“I’m looking to keep growing with the game,” Klabough said. “It’s my rookie season with Reno 1868 FC as a pro. I have a lot to learn, but I’m anxious to grow with the team. Already, I’m loving the team here and playing at Greater Nevada Field. It’s truly a unique experience. I want to keep improving myself every day.
“The fact that it’s a first-year club is exciting. It’s also the affiliate of the San Jose Earthquakes, which is a good gateway to MLS. It’s the club that gave me my first chance, and I’m excited to be here and wear the Reno crest.”