Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell’s long journey leads to TFC

Goalkeeper-Caleb-Patterson-Sewell.-(Bob-Mack/The-Florida-Times-Union-via-AP)

Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell. (Bob Mack/The Florida Times-Union via AP)

TORONTO – It’s fair to say that Caleb Patterson-Sewell has bounced around during his soccer career.

Patterson-Sewell, a 30-year-old goalkeeper who joined Toronto FC earlier this month, previously turned out for 10 clubs across several leagues: Cleveland City Stars, New York Red Bulls, Carolina RailHawks, Miami FC, Atlético Clube de Portugal, Vitória Setúbal, Gil Vicente, Rayo Oklahoma City, Farense, Jacksonville Armada.

He also spent time with the reserve team of Belgian club Anderlecht, and played for the youth academy sides of Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday in England.

A native of Tennessee who grew up in Australia, Patterson-Sewell has made a lot of contacts in the game during his extensive travels. One such contact is TFC goalkeeper coach Jon Conway, who took Patterson-Sewell under his wing when they were teammates in New York from 2008-09. It was Conway who reached out to Patterson-Sewell last year when he was with Jacksonville about his future plans, and it was Conway who played a pivotal role in bringing him to Toronto. When a chance presented itself to be reunited with his former mentor, Patterson-Sewell took it.

“One thing that stuck out then about Jon, and it still sticks out now, is that he’s such a genuine guy. He looked after all the younger guys, me especially,” Patterson-Sewell told Sportsnet.

“He would go away from the club to do gym sessions with a personal trainer, and he basically said ‘You’re coming with me.’ So, I’d go with him once or twice a week and we worked out. Those sorts of things when you’re younger are invaluable – when you have a veteran that’s pushing you and says, ‘Follow my lead.’

“In that aspect, I always looked up to him. In training, I was always watching how he moved in terms of his body size and mechanics. We were built the same way, we had a similar style, so it was easy for me to watch him and try to incorporate what he was doing with my own ideas. That was a big learning experience for me back then, and Jon had a very positive effect on me. I’ve never forgotten that. He reached out to me and that’s how it all started, and why I’m in Toronto.”

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TFC acquired Patterson-Sewell in a trade with New York in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. He first signed with the Red Bulls in 2008, but never played a single game with the club, which still retained his MLS rights before dealing him to Toronto.

He spent the 2017 season with Jacksonville in the second-tier North American Soccer League where he tallied a club record 10 clean sheets, and posted a record of 10-8-13. He accomplished this during a tumultuous campaign with the Armada – the league took over ownership of the team at the start of the year after its former owner confirmed he was looking to sell the club. At the moment, the 2018-19 NASL season is in limbo – the league is involved in a lawsuit with the U.S. Soccer Federation over sanctioning.

Patterson-Sewell saw the handwriting on the wall last year when Conway called to gauge his interest in coming to Toronto in 2018. He had other job offers from a number of teams in MLS, but in the end, he decided to join the Reds.

“Obviously, Toronto is another echelon above, so any chance you can get to be around this organization, you take it. It was an easy decision to make. … There were other options in MLS, and we explained that to Jon. But he made the choice pretty easy for me in explaining how the club worked,” Patterson-Sewell said.

He made the choice to come to Toronto even though it’s unlikely he’ll see much playing time with the first team. Alex Bono is expected to remain the Reds’ starter this season, after playing a major role in the team’s run to the 2018 MLS Cup final. Clint Irwin, Bono’s backup, would be a starter at most other clubs in MLS.

That leaves Patterson-Sewell as the club’s third-string goalkeeper, a spot Toronto had to fill after cutting ties with Mark Pais in the off-season. In between training alongside Bono and Irwin, he’ll likely get regular playing time with the TFC II farm club in the second-tier United Soccer League.

Coach Greg Vanney has been impressed with his work rate in training sessions thus far, the way he’s pushed Bono and Irwin, and how he’s integrated into the team so quickly. Having played in Portugal, Patterson-Sewell spent a lot of time with defender Auro when he first joined TFC a few weeks ago, helping the young Brazilian to settle and acting as his translator. Vanney has also taken notice of his attitude in accepting his position without complaint.

“We’re confident if we ever get in a situation where we needed to use him or felt it was right to use him, then he’s proven. … It’s a challenging role [as a third-string goalkeeper], but he understands the role,” Vanney said.

Though Patterson-Sewell accepts his role as third-choice, he doesn’t have the mindset of a No. 3 goalkeeper.

“My role here is to put my head down and work, and if my number is I called I have to be ready to go. That’s why I don’t look at it as Alex is No. 1, Clint is two and I’m three. … If you think as yourself as a number of three, then that’s the level of performance you’re going to show. You have to make sure that when you come to training each day that you value yourself enough to know you can play,” he said.

It’s a valuable lesson he learned while playing in Portugal from 2011-16 after toiling in North America’s lower divisions with Carolina and Miami after his stint with the Red Bulls. In Portugal, sometimes he started, sometimes he was the backup. But he always had to be ready to go, and the pressure was immense.

“Portugal was, by far, the biggest step for me in my career. A foreign country, I didn’t speak the language, and playing in a top league there for several years against clubs like Benfica, Sporting and Porto, you sink or swim. I survived it and came out the other side a better goalkeeper,” he said.

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