Sometimes to take the next step as a professional athlete, you may be forced to leave the bright lights of a top organization. American defender Matthew Olosunde was facing that reality in 2019 after being released by English Premier League giants Manchester United.
The former Red Devils product made the move to English third-tier club Rotherham United this summer after being released following the expiration of his contract.
Olosunde never appeared for the Manchester United first team during his time in Manchester, but gained valuable experience during his time with the English giants. Now he is trying to make name for himself with Rotherham, looking to grow as a player both on and off the field.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting to come in and play right away, but the manager’s decision has given me confidence in the early part of the season,” Olosunde told SBI. “I got a bit lucky and I’m trying to take the opportunity as it comes and I’m trying to help the club as best I can. Definitely enjoying the time so far.”
“Everyone wants to stay and make it at United at that level, but it probably was the right move for me to kick on with my career. I’m at that age where I need to play. About a month after my contract ran out, Rotherham had contacted my agent and I thought it was the best choice to me. There were some other League One sides also interested, but I felt it was the right decision to come here. So far it’s been paying off with me getting onto the field.”
The 21-year-old Trenton, New Jersey native has made four domestic appearances for the Millers since arriving in the summer. He’s taken a hold of the starting right back position and thrived so far, helping the club to a 3-1 record in all competitions, including advancement into the second round of the English League Cup.
Olosunde brings strong defensive skills to Rotherham’s backline and has beaten out several veteran players for the starting job. Unlike his time with Manchester United’s youth sides, Olosunde has begun to taste life of league play which can sometimes bring two-to-three matches over a week span. It’s something he has prepared for and is looking forward to continuing as the season moves forward.
“I would like to play at the highest level I can. I feel this is a good platform for me to continue my development and get minutes,” Olosunde said. “We have a good team and guys who want to win. We feel we have a good chance of winning promotion back to the Championship, but it will not come easy.”
“It was a change for me since some weeks you may be asked to play two games or three games in seven days. It’s a mental battle, but in football you have got to get used to it. It’s good because it provides more chances to get better and I definitely want to do that.”
It’s been more than a year since Olosunde made his U.S. Men’s National Team debut, in a 3-0 friendly win over Bolivia in 2018. The right back has yet to receive the call from new head coach Gregg Berhalter, but has appeared once for the U.S. U-23 side under Jason Kreis.
With the road back to the USMNT remaining a possibility, Olosunde is hoping to use his time at Rotherham to build for that time. He can still appear for the U-23’s who will participate in the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico next spring and it isn’t something he is pushing to the side.
“Definitely. It’s a huge goal of mine to get back into the U.S. Men’s National Team and try to establish my position there,” Olosunde said. “It’s something I am looking forward to. I am also hoping to be a part of the U-23 side who are fighting for a place in the 2020 Olympics. I am aiming to be a part of both in the near future.”
“Seeing our American players in the league and country is definitely a good thing for me. It helps push me and get me to the next level. I want to try to continue not only the success the other players have here, but also try to be successful with those players on the National Team stage.”
Although other League One sides were in the mix for his services, Olosunde decided on Rotherham and looks to have been rewarded so far for his choice. Olosunde’s manager, Paul Warne, is in his second season in charge of the club he totaled 232 appearances as a player for. It may only be the first month of the season, but Olosunde is grateful for Warne’s belief in him and knows he must keep up the positive work for a place in his starting lineup.
“Paul has been a big help. He’s been pushing me and helping get the best out of me,” Olosunde said. “He wants me to be influential on the field and I feel comfortable working under him. He has helped me become integrated with the club and has taken me under his wing since I’ve gotten here.”
“Being new to the league was always going to be a challenge, especially when you have veterans from this league trying to beat you out for a spot on the pitch. It’s good pressure and it reminds me that if I am not giving 100% then I could be on the bench.”
Up next for Rotherham is a home date with EFL Championship side Sheffield Wednesday in the second round of the League Cup. After a 4-0 road win over Shrewsbury Town in the opening round, the Owls will pose a tougher test at New York Stadium. Olosunde isn’t shying away from the challenge of welcoming a club currently 30 places higher in the standings.
“I am really excited for that, it will be a good test for us as we face a tough team like Sheffield Wednesday, who are a league above us,” Olosunde said. “It will be an opportunity to test ourselves. I am looking forward to showing off my skills against them because it will only make me better. We want to get back to that division, this is a chance to prove we can be back there.”