Photo by Duke Athletics/ Brian White (right) dribbles beyond a defender
It's no surprise that Brian White put together the astounding Premier Development League season he did with the New York Red Bulls U23, but the sheer volume of production he provided was a testament to what can happen when talent meets hard work.
The current No. 1 PDL Top Prospect's ability comes as no surprise. The Flemington, New Jersey, native's talent has been obvious since he first took the field for the U23 in 2015 and since he signed on as a freshman at Duke University to play his collegiate ball with the Blue Devils.
But many a talented player has fallen by the wayside over years and years of soccer history, many times due to a lack of commitment or focus on improvement. There are no such concerns with White, who's drive has powered his game to new heights in 2017 and potentially beyond. White worked hard outside of mandatory practices to identify weaknesses in his game and address them, and it has certainly paid off for the now-senior.
“I put a lot of work in outside of practice, on my own and with the Duke coaching staff. But I'll tell you, the biggest thing was this mentality switch,” White told USLPDL.com. “I wasn't as confident as I should be, but now it's more like I know I'm going to score, I know I'm going to cause some trouble for defenders, whereas before it was more like, 'I hope I score this game' and was kind of lackadaisical about it. So that change in mentality, a change in maturity as I've gotten a bit older and played more with older guys. I think more than anything it's been that mentality switch.”
Photo by Duke Athletics/ White celebrates with teammates in the background
The mentality switch clearly has something clicking, as White put in an all-time great PDL season en route to winning the league's MVP award and Golden Boot. Just compare the numbers to his 2015 campaign. His 2015 season with the U23 saw White play 646 minutes and produce four goals and three assists. In 2017, he slightly less than doubled his minutes played with 1,106, but more than quadrupled his goal tally to 17 on the year, while maintaining his three assists. White went from a goal or assist every 92 minutes to one every 55 minutes, an astounding level of growth and unheard of productivity.
While the staff at Duke has certainly given White a leg-up in that development, he believes his time in the Premier Development League has given him a different kind of challenge from the one presented in collegiate ball.
“There's a lot of good players in the league, a lot of college guys who are trying to make it to the next level, guys who aren't in school but are still trying to make it,” White said. “So there's good games, older guys, so you're challenged in some ways that college games wouldn't necessarily. They're grown, they know how to play the game. Being in an environment like Red Bulls gives you the chance to be in a professional environment and adapt to the faster game.”
Photo by Duke Athletics/ White (left) dribbles beyond a Fordham defender
Being a part of the Red Bulls U23 has certainly been advantageous for White. The New York Red Bulls have one of the most prolific academy systems in American soccer, producing the most Homegrown players in MLS history, and currently featuring eight Homegrown players on their roster. The team also has a history of producing strong PDL talents, with now-professionals such as Sean Davis, Brandon Allen, Arun Basuljevic and more.
That dedication to their PDL team has produced the Red Bulls some strong talent over the years, but those players have likewise helped them as well. White's 2017 campaign led the Red Bulls U23 to the top of the Mid Atlantic Division with an astounding 12-1-1 record. Though their playoff campaign was cut short by the Long Island Rough Riders in the first round, the season was still a resounding success for a team that has won two of three division titles since joining the PDL in 2015, including a Championship Final appearance that year. The symbiosis of a dedicated club and dedicated players has crafted strong teams and well-developed players, and White credits this as well with helping him become more patient and closer to the professional he dreams of being.
“Playing quickly first and foremost is something I've noticed,” White said. “Playing with the first team at Red Bulls, you know, it's a different level than college and even the U23. Just being composed and taking my chances to finish, sometimes I'll rush things, and so I've got to slow myself down and pass it into the back of the net, because not all shots need to be big strikes, it could just be a soft pass to the bottom corner.”
Photo by Duke Athletics/ White (left) chases down a pass
He's taken those freshly developed skills and has begun to apply them to Duke this season. The Blue Devils have struggled in recent seasons in an incredibly deep Atlantic Coast Conference. The team hasn't made it back to the NCAA Tournament since 2011, after a run of eight consecutive seasons in which the team made it. With White's class now the senior leaders of the team, he believes it's time to push for Duke's re-emergence as an annual powerhouse.
“Since I've been here, we've never made the NCAA Tournament,” said White. “We haven't really made it too far in the ACC Tournament either. Our goal has always been to make the NCAA Tournament, and I think now that my class is the senior class, and a big class, I think it's time we change the culture around here and make a mentality shift.
“I'd say we're a lot more dedicated, motivated, and concentrated on the soccer,” he continued. “You know, Duke is such an amazing school with everything it has to offer you, sometimes some guys get lost in all of the extracurriculars that are here. But this year, I think we've done a better job of focusing on the soccer part, and obviously school, but mostly staying concentrated on working towards our ultimate goal of making the tournament again.”
While his focus is admirably on the present with Duke, there's no doubt that White has professional aspirations. With the talent and hard-work he's displayed, skills that have led him to the very-coveted top of the PDL Top Prospects list, White seems a prime candidate to successfully make the leap to the professional game. While well aware of his talent, White certainly isn't letting anything get to his head, remaining grounded in where he's come from.
“Well I've played a lot of games with the Red Bulls U23 and it'll definitely suck to not play with some of them anymore,” White said. “but I'm very excited to be in a professional environment. It's something I've always wanted to be a part of, something I always dreamed of as a kid. I'm excited to challenge myself, try myself against the best in the league, the best this country has and the best foreign-born too. Just to challenge myself against the best and become a professional-level soccer player.”