HUNTINGTON — One would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is having a better 2021 than Marshall soccer wing Jamil Roberts.
In January, Roberts was chosen in the third round of the MLS Superdraft by Sporting KC, fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing professional soccer.
However, Sporting KC officials and Marshall’s coaches agreed that he would be best suited to return to Huntington to play his final campaign with the Thundering Herd before making the ascent to the professional ranks.
“It was a mutual decision between myself, the staff at Marshall and the staff at Sporting,” Roberts explained. “We agreed that I would be in a lot better shape if I remained in Huntington and brought a national championship home.”
Instead of getting a professional career started, Roberts opted to stay with his brothers at Marshall and chase a national title, which was the only goal in sight for him and his teammates.
Roberts made good on his intentions on Monday, scoring the lone goal in the 98th minute of the NCAA College Cup final to give Marshall its first-ever national championship in men’s soccer with a 1-0 overtime win over Indiana in Cary, North Carolina.
Individually, it capped one heck of a run through the NCAA tournament and College Cup for Roberts.
After assisting on Milo Yosef’s game-winner in the overtime victory over Fordham to start the NCAA tournament, Roberts scored all three game-winning goals in the Herd’s final three matches to help Marshall earn the title.
All three came with Roberts finishing plays started by Herd All-American Vitor Dias, which speaks to the chemistry the players have on the field.
First, against Georgetown, Roberts ran back post and finished a cross after a brilliant run by Dias to boost a 1-0 win.
Then, against North Carolina, Roberts took a flick from Dias after a Yosef pass into the middle and slotted it under the keeper for another 1-0 victory.
Finally, the goal against Indiana came off a rebound from a shot by Dias that caught the keeper, then bounded twice off the woodwork before Roberts punched it in the back of the net to set off a celebration.
For Roberts, the celebration was the culmination of many years of work, much of which did not feature as many happy memories as what he experienced in the last month with the Herd.
Most recently, there was a 2020 injury that Roberts suffered, which he admitted placed doubt as to whether he’d ever be the same player as he was in 2019, when he was a United Soccer Coaches All-Southeast Region first-team selection and a Conference USA second-team selection after finishing in the top 10 in NCAA ranks in total assists with six.
Roberts’ biggest adversity could be traced to his journey to Marshall.
The decision to join Marshall’s program came in 2017 after one of the darkest moments of his soccer career — being cut by Dorchester Town Futbol Club in his home country in England.
With options limited, Roberts let the faith in his abilities and the faith that Marshall coach Chris Grassie had in him bring him to the United States to join the Herd.
“It’s surreal, man,” Roberts said at Tuesday’s celebration of the title. “When I was that young and I was 18, I always told myself it was just one man’s opinion. Luckily, I had the opinion of that coach over there [Grassie]. He believed in me and took me to heights that I never thought I could reach. I guess the only way to repay that is to continue to grow in every single way.”
Roberts’ growth in soccer now takes its journey to Kansas City where he will start his professional career in the Sporting KC system.
The 5-foot-9 offensive spark does so with confidence at an all-time high following the strong showing and a national championship to his credit.
“This is the best way to finish this incredible season,” Roberts said. “I’ve got to keep this momentum going once I join up with Sporting.”
While he’s headed to Kansas City, Roberts added that Huntington will always be with him wherever he goes.
“To bring that bit of joy in such a difficult year back to Huntington, to put a smile on their face — that makes it all worth it for me,” Roberts said.
Roberts added that this is not the end of his journey to Huntington.
“I don’t think I ever will say goodbye to this place,” Roberts said. “It’s always going to be a ‘See you soon,’ not a goodbye. That’s the best thing about this place.
“The way this place has made me feel at home is something I’ll never forget. I just have such an unconditional love for this university and for this city that I don’t think it ever will be goodbye.”