From arriving at Charlotte as a holding midfielder to emerging as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 MLS draft, Callum Montgomery’s a perfect example of a late bloomer setup for success by college soccer.
A native of British Columbia, Canada, heading south to compete in the NCAA wasn’t even about becoming primarily becoming a professional.
It was about opening doors, enjoying a new experience and improving on the field.
“I knew I wanted to play in the NCAA, it’s a much bigger college system than the Canadian one, a lot more financial resources and it provides the pathway to potentially play professional soccer and just a different experience than what I was used to,” Montgomery told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “While Canadian soccer is getting better, I knew I wanted to pursue an NCAA career.
“I was kind of a late bloomer and at a young age when you’re told ‘no, no, no you’re not good enough,’ I figured I missed out. So I was more going to go to the NCAA more for the experience, because I knew I was good enough to play in the NCAA, plus I wanted to get that big school, something different, cultural experience.”
So how did Montgomery – who was born and raised in British Columbia – end up at a program more than 2,000 miles away in North Carolina?
It started even before Montgomery was on the radar of any Division I programs. Competing as a central midfielder for various club teams on his native Vancouver Island, Montgomery endured a long commute during his first two years of high school. Driving to the tip of the island, he spent time competing for teams based in Victoria, a coastal city at the southern point. After the commute became too much, Montgomery enrolled in St. Michaels School ahead of his junior year. Competing for his school’s team along with the Victoria Islanders, he faced off against a slew of different opponents around the region, anyone from the Seattle Sounders Academy to teams from a local men’s league.
Pro soccer wasn’t even high on Montgomery’s priority list, given that he was turned down by the Provincial team in B.C. and never even snagged an invitation to try out for the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy. His quest for an ideal school started late, in his junior year. And it was something of a lucky break that steered him to Charlotte.
“I went to a Stanford ID Camp, I impressed, Stanford was interested in me [coach Jeremy] Gunn was interested in me, they tried to recruit me, but unfortunately I couldn’t get in academically,” Montgomery explained. “He forwarded my name on to Kevin Langan, who used to be Gunn’s assistant back when Gunn was at Charlotte, he passed my name on there, I went to an ID camp [at Charlotte] halfway through my senior year, and I committed in March of my senior year to Charlotte.”
When he finally arrived on campus, the possibility of pro soccer started to emerge. After competing mostly as a central midfielder during his club career, Charlotte head coach moved Montgomery to the back line. As he continued to grow into a 6-foot-2 frame, as the years passed, the Canadian native could see pro possibilities start to emerge.
“I knew it was something I could work towards and obviously I had a successful first year, got into the starting eleven,” Montgomery explained. “End of my sophomore year it really became real for me, middle of junior year when I started getting a lot of accolades and a little more national attention, I realized I might have a chance.”
Each season, Montgomery continued to improve and was eventually in the conversation as one of the best center backs in college soccer. Spending summers competing in the USL PDL for the Victoria Highlanders, the defender felt more comfortable in just about every phase of the game.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot more calm over the years, as you get into it, get used to the competition,” he said. “I think I’ve gotten a lot more technical in my ability on the ball, more confident in my passes. My mentality, the way I see the game, obviously there’s a different mentality you have to have going from a center mid to a center back. Center mid you can tackle, take chances more, as a center back, you’re the last line. If you make a mistake, it can a lot of the time end up in the back of the net.”
By the end of his senior season, Montgomery emerged as a clear-cut candidate to get picked in the Top 10 pick of the draft. With no Homegrown ties, being left-footed, a solid showing at the combine just about locked it in. Sure enough, he had his name called by FC Dallas at No. 4 in Chicago.
Heading into preseason camp, Montgomery is eager for the opportunity. His college success has put him on the radar of the Canadian Under-23 team, as he’s age eligible to compete in the 2020 Olympics. For now, his focus is on North Texas, to continue to improve and defy expectations along the way.
“I hear Dallas is a great city, new coach coming in, it’s an exciting time for the club and I think it’s going to be an unbelievable experience,” he said after getting picked. “There are some great center backs that I can learn from and grow my game every single day.”