Arriving at FC Cincinnati last preseason, Forrest Lasso claimed the 2018 USL Championship Defender of the Year award last fall and made the move to Major League Soccer with the side this offseason. | Photo courtesy FC Cincinnati
CHARLESTON, S.C. – As his baptism into the professional ranks, the memory of Forrest Lasso’s first Carolina Challenge Cup as a rookie with the Charleston Battery in 2015 – when star-studded Major League Soccer expansion franchises Orlando City SC and New York City FC arrived at MUSC Health Stadium – still sticks with the defender to this day.
“That was a rude awakening, for lack of better words,” said Lasso this week. “I was just coming out of the college game, I had been training in Charleston for a few weeks with the guys in the squad, so I hadn’t had any professional experience game-wise until that Cup, and with Kaka, [Andrea] Pirlo, David Villa, the guys being there, Brek Shea, some of the guys that were down there were guys I’d watched on TV, guys that I’d admired, guys that I’d tried to learn from, from afar, to then be on the pitch with them and compete with them was surreal.
“It was eye-opening, for sure. It motivated me and pushed me further to keep climbing and keep chasing, keep wanting more, but to come in as a rookie and have to go against some of those guys was a dream come true.”
Things have certainly changed as Lasso enters his fifth professional season. Now coming off a year in which he was named the USL Championship’s Defender of the Year and earned his first MLS contract with FC Cincinnati, Lasso returns to MUSC Health Stadium this week as one of the visitors for the 15th edition of the Challenge Cup, which will once again feature some major star-power with the likes of the Chicago Fire’s Bastian Schweinsteiger and Columbus Crew SC’s Federico Higuain also part of the event.
Forrest Lasso spent his first three seasons with the Charleston Battery, making his debut in the club's colors at the 2015 Carolina Challenge Cup. | Photo courtesy Zach Bland / Charleston Battery
For Lasso, the return to the city where he spent his first three professional seasons – is one to treasure. Lasso’s path in soccer was forged in the Carolinas, from his upbringing in Raleigh, N.C. to earning United Soccer Coaches All-America honors as a senior at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., to his arrival at the Battery for the 2015 campaign. Lasso’s path to the top as a self-confessed late-bloomer made playing for Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser the ideal situation for his first professional home.
“[Anhaeuser] has a framework, he has a system that he sticks to and he believes in, and he’s been able to do that exceptionally well every year to find some hidden talents locally or hidden talents around the rest of the world that maybe didn’t get their chance, or needed a second or third opportunity,” said Lasso. “When I was in school, I obviously knew who the Battery were, I didn’t know Mike that well, but he gave me a chance from the very beginning. He saw me as a college player, he knew the potential or the development I could have if I worked hard for it and he gave me an opportunity.”
The 25-year-old began to come into his own late in the 2016 season before hitting his stride and earning his first USL Championship All-League honor the following year. After making the offseason move to Cincinnati with the goal of adding to his resume with FCC preparing to make the move to MLS, Lasso was again among the best defenders in the league and took home the hardware to prove it.
Now he’s looking to make his mark in orange-and-blue in the top flight, with some notable role models from the USL Championship to follow. The center back position has been one that has seen a handful of notable league alumni become consistent performers in the top flight, with the likes of Sebastien Ibeagha and Daniel Steres both solid contributors a season ago.
At the top of that list, of course, is Aaron Long, who has gone from the USL Championship’s Defender of the Year and a USL Cup-winner in 2016 to MLS Defender of the Year and the U.S. Men’s National Team last year. Following that path is going to be a tall order, certainly, but Long is certainly an inspirational figure in Lasso’s eyes.
“As cliché as it is, I think I’m still climbing the ladder and I have a lot more to accomplish, and I just need to stay motivated and keep my head down,” said Lasso. “To be able to watch Aaron, who I played against when he was with the Red Bulls II, now being the captain for the national team recently, it’s definitely motivating, feeling like an ‘if he can do it, then I can do it’ type deal. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that, but the opportunities are there in front of you, and for me as a person if you take one day at a time, and I keep telling myself I can be better today than I was yesterday, then who knows what tomorrow will hold?”
Having claimed back-to-back USL Championship All-League First Team honors, and the Defender of the Year award in 2018, Forrest Lasso should get a warm reception in Charleston this week with FC Cincinnati. | Photo courtesy Zach Bland
For now, Lasso is looking to have a positive week at his old stomping grounds of MUSC Health Stadium, where he and his FC Cincinnati teammates will kick off the 2019 CCC on Saturday night against the Battery at 7:30 p.m. ET. While the results of the tournament may not matter in the long-run, Lasso is looking for positive displays in all three contests for FCC as it looks to build momentum towards the club’s inaugural MLS contest against Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday, March 3.
“For myself personally, for the squad, the most important thing is to come away from the trip more cohesive as a unit than before we left,” said Lasso. “It’s just a couple of weeks until we get the ball rolling up in Seattle, so personally and as a whole team we’d like to keep improving and taking steps forward. With all of the changes we’ve had this year, one of the most important things is finding our system, finding our philosophy, finding our identity and executing that to the best of our ability.”
And for the little kid in the big body, the chance to play a few more games in front of his friends and family in the Carolinas sure won’t hurt either.
“It’s going to be special,” said Lasso. “I mean, obviously, spending three seasons there it kinda became my second home and I have a handful of good memories from starting up my professional career there, so it’s definitely a special spot to me, has a special place in my heart.
“You don’t get to play in front of close friends and family every single week, so when you have that opportunity it’s something you don’t want to take it for granted.”