Life as a rookie for New England Revolution forward Justin Rennicks has been anything other than normal. But, just like he does on the pitch, the 20-year-old is keeping the ball rolling as he finishes out his first professional season on a loan with North Carolina FC.
Born in South Hamilton, MA, Rennicks has had the chance to develop his game in his home state, beginning with his first years in the sport and continuing through his days at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School.
“I was always jumping sports,” Rennicks said. “I played baseball, tennis, soccer. When I was really young, I was playing town league, and my dad saw this little spark in me. My dad really knew that I had the potential to be a great soccer player, so he was the one who convinced me to go play for this club, go play here, go play there. My dad was the one that really pushed me to make this my life.”
Rennicks continued his journey at the collegiate level, spending two years at Indiana University and recording six goals and one assist in his 29 total appearances.
When he was just 19 years old, he signed with the Revolution as a Homegrown Player in January 2019 after playing for more than four seasons in the Revolution Academy, the team’s youth training program.
“It’s always been my goal to play for a professional team,” Rennicks said. “I never knew it was going to be the Revs. I always wanted to play for the Revs, but you never know who’s going to take you. But signing with the Revolution was the best thing that could happen, best team I wanted to sign for.”
Two months later, Rennicks was making an impact on the field, but for a different team wearing red, white and blue: the United States national team in the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland.
Some players may crumble under the pressure that comes with competing for your home country, but Rennicks thrived when given the opportunity. He scored seven goals at the U-20 level, and played in four of the United States’ five matches in Poland.
To top it all off? He netted a game winner in the Round of 16 against France in June to solidify the hype.
“That was one of the biggest confidence boosts I’ve had probably ever in my life, especially when it comes to soccer,” Rennicks said. “I came back and I was feeling good. I was out there and I was competing. I probably had the best few practices of the whole year once I got back because I was getting minutes.”
While there have been lots of positives throughout Rennicks’ career, he’s also had to deal with a few challenges that other players don’t often face in their first year.
The Revolution hired a new head coach, Bruce Arena, in May 2019, just a few months after Rennicks signed his deal with the team and a month before his monumental moment for the U-20 national team. Three months later, he was loaned to North Carolina FC of the USL Championship to finish out his rookie campaign.
“I say it to everybody, it’s been all over the place,” Rennicks said. ” [It’s] not something that happens to every rookie, going through two different coaches. Obviously, I would’ve liked to get more minutes with the Revolution. But you know, the chances I got, I think I performed pretty well.”
While the news of the loan left Rennicks unhappy at first, a discussion with Arena led to a realization for the rookie.
“At first, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m getting loaned out. This is totally negative,’ Rennicks said. “I spoke to Bruce and we talked, and what it came down to was, I need minutes. I can’t just be sitting on the bench watching games. So, me coming out here, getting minutes, playing games, hopefully start starting soon, it’s what I need.
“I totally thought it was negative at first, but in reality, they want me playing,” Rennicks added. “And they like me as a player, and they just want me to keep progressing.”
Rennicks continues to evolve as he deals with the trials and tribulations of his rookie year, along with his own expectations for himself with all of the hype that’s surrounding him.
“It’s hard,” Rennicks said. “I’m not going to go [to the Revolution] and just play every minute. I didn’t obviously expect that, but I was hoping to at least be on the field a little bit more than I was, but it’s reality. Hopefully when I get back there, I’m gonna be the same way I felt after the World Cup, just the old me when I’m getting minutes.”
While the whole process seems like a lot to digest for any soccer player, it’s even more difficult for one that just celebrated his 20th birthday in March 2019.
“The biggest learning curve is just kind of getting used to the whole system and kind of growing up,” Rennicks said. “I’m an adult now and this is my life, so I’ve gotta pursue everything I can.”
Every player has plenty of goals for their career, whether it’s being remembered for winning a championship, breaking individual records or leaving a mark as a leader in the locker room. For Rennicks, his focus right now boils down to what it was when he first got into the sport as a kid: playing the sport he loves.
“Just playing games, man,” Rennicks said. “That’s what it comes down to. Get back to the MLS, playing big games, playing playoff games, playing in finals, everything. I just want to be out there.”