Matthew Olosunde has taken the starting right back job at League One side Rotherham United and never looked back. Now, the U.S. Men’s National Team prospect is aiming for a strong second-half of the season with the current division leaders.
Since joining from Manchester United in August, Olosunde has earned important first-team minutes in the third tier of English football. The 21-year-old has appeared in 28 matches of a possible 29 in all competitions this season, helping the club to a current first place spot. It was a huge move last summer for Olosunde, but one that he has felt comfortable in since.
“I’ve gotten that feeling of earning results and pushing to get to where you want to be,” Olosunde told SBI. “When you’re at the first team level, you get to see the importance of everything you do and trying to get results for the team and for yourself. It’s definitely a value that I’ve picked up in my time here, something I didn’t have before.”
“I have definitely been pleased with how my time here as gone so far. I feel I have gotten more comfortable at my position as the season has gone on. The team has given me confidence as well too. It’s a pretty tight-knit environment and everyone is super friendly.”
Olosunde has played at right back for most of the season, but has started being used on occasion in an advanced role upfield. The move has seen Olosunde register four assists in all competitions, while helping his team score a league best 48 goals in 26 matches.
It was something new added to the American defender’s game, which has definitely been noticed this season. His pace and ability to not only get upfield, but also track back and defend is a valuable asset to the team. The more he gets to learn under manager Paul Warne, the better Olosunde will be ready for the next chapter in his career.
“I’ve played in a few different positions so far,” Olosunde said. “I’m trying to build on my offensive work as much as my defensive work. Being able to get some assists has been helpful for the team. I’m excited to do more going forward.”
“A lot of the positions are not fully similar, but it’s something I feel comfortable in. If you want to be successful as a professional, you have to be open to new things and different ways to develop your game. I’ve been getting up the pitch more and I think it’s good to have that in my style of play. Wherever I can help the team most is where I want to be at.”
With the team being relegated from the EFL Championship last season, the goal was always to jump back up immediately. 26 matches into the 48-game schedule has Rotherham as a favorite to do so, but things can change over the new four months.
Since the start of December 2019, Rotherham has played 10 matches in all competitions, including a third round 3-2 loss to Hull City in the FA Cup. Olosunde has continued to hold his place in Warne’s starting lineup, despite matches coming thick and fast. Keeping his fitness up is something he’s had to learn, but it’s added to the valuable experience the defender has learned this season.
“Last season I had a pretty big injury so I was kept on the sidelines for a while,” Olosunde said. “I wasn’t really playing too much, but this season I’ve been in there every week. It’s something that my body has been getting used to, but I’m still young so it’s not too much of a problem.”
“There were a ton of matches over the holiday period, which is something I wasn’t used to in the past. I knew it would be a lot, but it took a toll on me. You don’t have many practices in between games, so it’s all about recovery and getting yourself ready for the next opponent.”
Making his USMNT senior debut back in May 2018, Olosunde has since made one appearance for the U-23 team in 2019 under new head coach, Jason Kreis. With the upcoming Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament quickly approaching, Olosunde is open to the possibility of representing the U-23’s as he aims to one day be a part of the senior team under Gregg Berhalter.
“I am definitely trying to be a part of that Olympic team,” Olosunde said. “Whether I am or not depends on my play and whether the coaching staff thinks I am good enough to be there. As long as I can keep my spot in the Rotherham squad and keep playing well, then the opportunities will come.”
“It’s definitely exciting to know there is a lot of competition for the position at right back because it will just make me work that much harder to get there. It is an honor to even be thought of as a prospect for that position. I just hope I continue to get looked at for it.”
From now until the end of the League One regular season on May 3rd, Rotherham United does not have a break longer than seven days in between matches. Seven points separates first through eighth in the league table, with only the top two teams earning automatic promotion back to the Championship. It may only be Olosunde’s first time in a promotion race, but it’s something he has enjoyed to the fullest so far.
“Knowing that one or two bad results can drop you in the table makes every game that much more important,” Olosunde said. “The league is definitely cutthroat, you have the top six or seven teams separated by a few points. If you lose a match or two then the next week you could be out of the automatic promotion places and not even in the playoffs. It makes it more exciting.”
Olosunde still has plenty more opportunities to improve this season, while he aims to help Rotherham United reach their goals of promotion. He is one of many young players enjoying a breakout season with the club, and savoring every minute of first-team football. It may not be a roster of household names, but it’s a squad that Olosunde is excited to be a part of.
“I feel like where we’re sitting in the table has come over time, all of the hard work everyone has been putting in,” Olosunde said. “Combining everyone’s styles of play and realizing where we are good at most has helped us. It’s shown so far this season that we can fight for promotion and we can reach the goals we put out for ourselves. It’s been a total team effort.”
“I think with this squad we’re more than capable of jumping back into the Championship. We’ve shown what we can do in the first-half of the season. Whenever we’re on the top of our game, we can beat anybody. We just always have to make sure we’re not underestimating anyone in this league, because anything can happen.”