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The Austin Berry Interview

(photo via FC Anyang Facebook)
As one of only three Americans to ever play professionally in Korea, Austin Berry's move from MLS to K-League this winter was certainly unconventional. The 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year was having less than an ideal time with the Philadelphia Union and looking for a fresh start. It wound up taking him half way around the world in a move that very few expected, but that may well pave the way for more Americans to make the journey.

Mr. Berry recently took the time to answer some questions on how he ended up in Korea, on-field communication, how K-League compares to MLS, being a veteran on a young team, recommending the league to others, traveling, Chipotle, and naturally zombies.

Ryan Walters: Starting you off with a truly important question for anyone living in Korea. What’s your go to Noreabang song?

Austin Berry: I haven’t made it to karaoke yet. There’s not much free time. I don’t know what the other teams are like, but [Anyang] pretty much house all of the players in a players dorm and have team meals and stuff at the players dorm. The days are kind of stretched out, so everyone just kind of sticks to the dorms and guys don’t do much outside of soccer.

RW: You not so discreetly wondered about Chipotle coming over here, a sentiment I can certainly share. But overall, how’s the food been for you?

AB: Oh man, the food’s great. I love meat and I love steak, so I know all the good Korean barbecue places around Anyang and around where I live and frequently visit all those. The food’s definitely been one of the pluses. I mean, it’s obviously a lot different than what I’m used to cooking on my own, but the food’s definitely been a plus and I’ve really enjoyed it.

RW: Best thing you’ve eaten?

AB: I’d say Korean barbecue. I love to stuff my face and there are a few all you can eat ones that are near my apartment, so any time there’s any kind of buffet or something like that I just go to town. Me and the other American Guy [Seth Moses] will go over to the barbecue every other week or once a week and just sit there for hours eating.

RW: Worst?

AB: I wouldn’t say worst, but I’m really big into nutrition and watching my diet and what kind of food and nutrients I’m putting in. We have mandatory team meals all the time and eating such a drastically different style of food and nutrition the first two months when my body was having a lot of all the spicy soups and the different spices and different oils, it just wreaked havoc on my body. Any of the spicy soups have been a struggle. I’m really into nutrition and big on that and it’s such a drastic change from what my diet normally is, so I was struggling with that a bit when I first got here. I mean… I’ll try anything just to see what I like. But the pretty crazy stuff I’m not really too keen on trying yet. I don’t think I’m there yet.

RW: It was mentioned in an interview you did with SBI Soccer that this is your first time in Asia. Had you traveled much before coming to Korea?

AB: Soccer wise, there was a little training stint in Sweden that I had in college and we went to Brazil [too]. Then I trained with Athletico Madrid for a couple of weeks after my first year in Chicago. We had a partnership with them and got to send a couple of young guys over, so I was a part of that. Really, soccer-wise, outside of MLS it’s only a couple of training things.

RW: How have you been finding life off the field here so far?

AB: Recently it’s been kind of tough. When you first come in you’re excited and you’re in preseason and you’re getting used to everything and running around. It’s like that even at home. In the summer months there are a lot of games, you’ve been playing for a while and it kind of wears on you a little bit. But adding to the fact that I’m so far away from home and from family and friends and with such a big time difference there are only a couple of periods at the beginning of the day and the end of the day that I can really catch up and talk to people. Recently that’s been a little bit hard. Obviously I expected it, but those are kind of the challenges.

RW: A question a lot of folks asked when your move was announced was how this came about. You were obviously trying to get out of a less than ideal situation in Philadelphia, but did you specifically ask for a move to a foreign league or was it something that was presented to you? How did you land in the K-League?

AB: It was pretty random. Me and my agent, since we first met, we had always talked about this being something I’ve wanted to do. To go overseas, and live overseas for a while and play soccer. We were trying to get out of [Philadelphia] for a while, and we were kind of out of options in preseason and we were just waiting. And actually the other American that’s over here with me on the team –who’s had a tough time dealing with injuries – was sitting down [with staff] and was like “hey, does this team need a center back?” And it kind of just went from there.

I was kind of frustrated and kind of over with soccer for the time being and when they brought it up it was something that excited me and was obviously going to be a different experience. It also opens up a whole new area of possibilities in the future, a whole different market for myself.

RW: You’re one of only two native English speakers on your team and communication as a center back is amazingly important, how has the on field dialog been for you?

AB: Right now I feel pretty confident in communicating the easy stuff like left, right, up, back, drop, the normal stuff. That kind of simple stuff that’s needed in communication I feel confident in listening and giving out orders. I was talking to my college coach and said it was actually a good training experience when I first got here. I didn’t know what words meant and I didn’t know how to dictate what I wanted, so it forced me to have more field awareness and to be looking more around instead of relying on guys talking to me. Even still I’d like more communication from the other guys, but it’s from both ways. Guys aren’t comfortable in saying another language or they’re not comfortable in saying stuff in Korean to me, so it’s kind of forced me to have better awareness of what’s going on around me because of the slight lack of communication.
RW: Despite the fact that you found out you’re a bit older here, you’re still on an amazingly young team. There are only six players older than you, and none in their 30s (American age). That puts you in the position of being a veteran on this team. How do you view your role with FC Anyang’s younger players?

AB: It’s funny you bring that up because I am in that kind of a position and the guys have mentioned that before. There are a lot of younger guys and outside of university this is their first soccer experience. It’s been hard because I come from a bigger league than a lot of these guys are in and it’s a lot more intense and you can’t treat young players the same way you’d treat another veteran that you’re playing next to every game. You can be a little bit more intense, you can be a little bit more forceful. Not negative, but you can yell a little bit more. With younger guys you want to build them up a little bit more and make sure they know it’s OK if they make a mistake and stuff like that. So, it’s been a big test of patience. Especially with the way this season has gone and all the frustrations with that to try to stay positive and help the young guys that are kind of learning the game.

But that’s also what I think this team could use a little bit. A little bit more intensity and guys getting into each other. Because I think some guys are just too comfortable in practice then when we get into intense moments in the game, guys aren’t really used to that. So I think if we trained a bit more of guys just being able to handle more intense and harder situations I think that would help. And I think we’ve been doing that a little bit more lately.

RW: You started your career in the MLS, a league well known for being physical, and center back is one of the most physical positions. What’re your thoughts on the style of play in K-League and how does it compare to MLS and other places you’ve played?

AB: I mean, it’s obviously different. That’s one of the main questions that people ask when I’ve done interviews. It is a different style of play, it is a different country. We always joke that a lot of games if it was an American referee, maybe two fouls would’ve been called all game. If was an English, or a Premiere League referee there would’ve been zero fouls and maybe four cards for diving. I learned that early on in preseason and watching some video of some of the fouls they call here and how careful you have to be around the box, or in the box, and what you do. I’m not saying guys are looking for fouls, but there are a lot more softer calls. Whereas in the MLS it’s more of an uptempo, attacking, physical kind of game and we don’t have that many fouls. So that was definitely something I had to adjust and focus on when I first got here.

RW: That seems to have gone pretty well. To this point you’ve only garnered two yellow cards, so that’s impressive for a Centerback coming over from the MLS. 

AB: Yeah, I’ve been on two for a while. The coaches keep telling me to not get another yellow card, but I’m like I’m not going to spend the next 30 games not getting a yellow card.

RW: That would be a very unique challenge… but maybe just wait until you really need a rest and then go in hard on someone.

AB: (laughs) I gotta wait for one of the long away trips. I was joking that even if I didn’t get one I was just going to walk up to the referee and ask him to give me a yellow card.

RW: How about other aspects of the games such as fan culture, venues, etc? Other than Anyang Stadium, what’s been your favorite stadium thus far?

AB: Some of the stadiums are gorgeous. They’re great. It’s just unfortunate that more people don’t make it out to the games. But, it’s been fun traveling around and kind of seeing the country. Obviously it is the second league, so a lot of players if they spend a year injured or have a bad season it’s not uncommon to go down into the second league. So everything that I see I kind of expect. It’s been a way for me to get games and to get fitness back for myself and kind of showcase and find a future move.

But I really have enjoyed it over here. The culture, the way people have treated me both on and off the field has been fantastic. All the fans are really great. The whole city has been fun. It’s fun because there are really few foreigners in Anyang, especially around where I live. I can walk around and not see another foreigner. My language is not coming along great, but everyone’s really willing and patient and helpful when I want to go out to eat or I’m on my own, or stuff like that. From that standpoint it’s been great.

RW: You’re currently on loan from the Union and about half way through your first K-League Challenge season. You’ve said that you’re not viewing this as a stepping stone, but as a possible permanent stop. How’re you feeling about that now that you’ve spent some time in the league? 

AB: Yeah, we’re in a lot of talks right now, without getting into any specifics. It’s definitely something I’ve enjoyed. I’ve enjoyed the experience. It’s also been kind of a test run to see if I’d like to be overseas. It’s something I’ve always talked about, but until you do it you don’t know exactly how you’ll like it and get acclimated to it. I have enjoyed it enough that I would like to spend some more time overseas.

In playing soccer, I think the first goal for us is to get into the first league, whether here or another Asian league. There are a lot of options and a lot of stuff is kind of getting thrown around. So when things get a little more solid I’ll sit down and take everything into effect and think on it. There’s really nothing too solid or concrete going on right now.

RW: You’re one of only three Americans to play in K-League, why do you think we migukins have been so poorly represented here? 

AB: I don’t know. We always talk about that. Both the K-League and the MLS were started around the same timeframe and I wonder if there’s never really been any real connection between the two leagues. Not a lot of representatives going from here to there or there to here. So I think if it’s going to build and have players from the Americas I think it’s got to start somewhere. The more I show well, I think other teams, not just Anyang or Korea, will kind of start looking and see they can sign quality players from that side of the world.

RW: Would you recommend playing in the K-League to other American players and if so what do you think would be the best way to get more Yanks over here?

AB: Yeah, if it’s something that they truly want to do and make a big move like this, I think Korea is a great place for a player of any age because of how welcoming and how nice everyone is. It’s obviously going to be a very tough and hard experience if you do make a move like this, but as far as how I feel I’m treated and stuff like that, it’s been great.

RW: One of the great things about living in Korea is how easy it is to travel to other Asian countries. What’s on the top of your travel to do list?

AB: Well right now it’s Jeju. I think I’m going to be able to get a couple of days to get down there soon with this two week break that we have. It’s funny you brought that up because I was looking into vacations the other week and I was realizing how close I am to all those exotic resorts you always see over in the States and those are only some short flights away. So that’s another plus to playing on this side of the world, it’s a lot easier and inexpensive to visit other places on this side. I have a couple of friends that are in Bali and Indonesia, that’s a little bit of a longer flight, but there are a ton of places that I’ve looked at that I definitely have on my bucket list to travel to over here.

RW: You hail yourself as a “Future zombie apocalypse survivor” on Twitter, what is it in you that makes you sure you’ll survive when it inevitably happens?

AB: Just my training and preparation on Call of Duty year after year. I’ve trained against every type of zombie, I’ve watched every type of zombie movie, and just from my broad spectrum I think I’ll be ready. And I think I can make that tough decision. In the zombie apocalypse it’s every man for themself. You can’t have any personal ties, you just gotta cut em loose or they’re going to hold you back.

1 comment

  1. Great interview! It's nice to get his perspective on playing in Korea. Glad it's been positive enough to keep him abroad for a while!


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