Success is a journey, not a destination.
At least that is the mindset of Rochester New York Football Club’s very own Ian Garrett, who has reaped the benefits of his hard work this season. Garrett, who has a goal and assist to his name so far, has become one of Bruno Baltazar’s first options on the team sheet. The 26-year-old left-back boasts remarkable pace, technique and work ethic, but throughout his career, he’s had to be patient for opportunities to come.
His journey to Rochester was unconventional, to say the least. Originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Garrett has been surrounded by soccer since he was 4 years old. Although it wasn’t love at first sight, Garrett owes his passion for the game to his father.
“My dad was my coach when I started until I left home at 16, and he probably still is a little bit of my coach even now,” he said. “Seeing my dad being super into [the game] was inspiring to me, and I wanted to play.”
Hence, Garrett only had one thing on his mind: the beautiful game. Opportunities came thick and fast, and he didn’t hesitate to take them. As a freshman in high school, Garrett was already punching above his weight class on the varsity soccer team. Playing time wasn’t guaranteed, however, and in 2013, when his senior year came around, he was already looking for ways to get to the next level.
Fearing that he wouldn’t be able to go up against more physical players at the time, college soccer wasn’t an option for Garrett. However, one thing was for certain; he needed to find somewhere that shared his passion for soccer.
As a short and practical winger, he knew he had to play to his strengths. After carefully considering his options, he discovered IMG Academy’s soccer program, which promised Garrett an opportunity to focus on developing the technical side of his game. It’s also where he also came across the first difficult decision on his journey. Leaving home for a new and unfamiliar place is challenging, but Garrett believed it was for the best.
“Everything is a step,” he said. “The first time away from my family was terrifying and for me that was tough, but it was a really good maturing experience. If I hadn’t done that, I don’t think the rest of my career would’ve looked in the way that it has.”
Garrett would play alongside current professional Christian Pulisic, who has gone on to captain the U.S. men’s national team, as well as feature for Premier League side Chelsea F.C. Even after his experiences at IMG, Garrett still longed for a more fulfilling experience that could get him closer to his goals.
He joined Chicago Fire’s youth academy in 2014, where he went on to win the 2015 United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) Under-18 national championship. Despite his feelings of euphoria, he understood that he needed to find the next opportunity.
And despite two years of growth, Garrett still didn’t believe college was a viable option. Playing soccer was his #1 goal, and he felt that sitting in lectures would only slow that process down.
He began researching, looking for experiences that could keep him in shape physically and mentally. He would eventually stumble across an open tryout hosted by a professional soccer team in St. Louis. The only catch: all the games were played indoors.
It wasn’t enough to deter him from trying, and his determination earned him a spot on St. Louis Ambush. “I was the youngest player by almost 6 or 7 years, but that didn’t matter to me,” Garrett said. But as he mentioned, everything is a step. Making the squad was the first step, but being able to play was the next. As time progressed he, once again, was faced with the challenge of not being able to contribute as much as he desired.
He still wanted more. It was back to the drawing board.
Garrett knew he was running out of opportunities in the U.S., and a change of pace was needed to kickstart his odyssey. He decided to try his luck in Europe, after hearing of an opportunity to play in Scandanavia. His move eventually came through a connection with a Swedish coach looking to recruit players in the U.S.
Only a week would go by before he began questioning why he was even there. Garrett described the move to Sweden as a complete “culture shock,” with the living conditions less than favorable. He even encountered a language barrier, where most of his teammates either spoke Swedish or some other foreign language. Even so, the only thing on his mind was getting to the next level. “It was tough in terms of that adjustment and just being in a new place,” Garrett said. “But the football (soccer) stays the same. You’re there for that and that is what keeps you going.”
Although he gained valuable experience during his brief stay, he would find himself back home playing for St. Louis Ambush. His playing time was still limited, and being unable to express himself sparked a fire in his belly. Garrett knew he had to find a way back to Europe, and fast.
Through his various connections, his next opportunity came when an agent put him in contact with third-tier side Vassa IFK (VIFK) in Finland. Garrett’s quality and persistence had earned him a spot on the roster and marked the start of a great journey in Europe.
From 2017 to late 2021, Garrett played for 5 different Finnish clubs including VIFK, FF Jaro, Jakobstads Bollklubb, Vassan Palloseura (VPS), and top-flight team Kotkan Työväen Palloilijat. He survived relegation with VIFK in 2018, scoring five goals in eight appearances. He would later join Swedish side Nykoping Bissarna (BIS), where his goal-scoring form continued, before returning to Finland.
As Garrett continued to make strides, he had to make a difficult choice to keep progressing. After joining VPS, he realized the left wing position was overloaded with players and his playing time would not be guaranteed. VPS had an open slot at left-back, which would give him the chance to play consistently. Without hesitation, Garrett became VPS’ first choice left-back.
You’ll rarely see a winger convert to playing as a fullback (Antonio Valencia is an exception), but Garrett knew he would have a guaranteed spot in the VPS starting eleven if he did. He started 18 out of 18 matches for VPS, which gained the attraction of 1st tier side Kotkan Työväen Palloilijat.
Everywhere Garrett went, he overcame some form of adversity and managed to go from third-tier football in Finland to the first-tier in under four years. But his story doesn’t end there.
Garrett joined Rochester New York F.C. in March after Bruno Baltazar was impressed with his adventures in Europe.
“When I saw Ian, he just fitted perfectly as the kind of player, the kind of profile that we needed,” he said. “He saw different contacts, he saw different realities so it was a win-win. I’m very happy with him and the way he is performing on and off the pitch.”
With just nine games to go, Garrett will continue to be a key part of coach Baltazar’s plans heading into the final stages of the season. But his mindset remains the same.
“The main thing is about playing soccer,” Garrett said. “Whether that’s Rochester, Sweden, Finland or Kalamazoo, you have to perform wherever you are and you’re there for that reason.”