After being voted into the All-NPSL Supporters XI in summer 2015 after a strong campaign for FC Buffalo, Matthew "Nanu" Ferguson endured a gloomy junior season for the Niagara Purple Eagles.
With the miserable 1-16-3 campaign in the past, Ferguson is now presented with a fresh opportunity -- a chance to prove or even redeem himself -- through his invitation to the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) Combine from Jan. 8-10 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The combine will include a training session on Friday evening and matches split between the four regional teams on Saturday and Sunday. The Ferguson brothers will compete for the 16-player Midwest squad [see the roster here], and if Nanu can return to the industrious form he showed with FC Buffalo, it's possible that he could open some eyes.
[Read the NPSL website's feature on Andrew Ferguson, also headed to the combine]
With his brother Andrew thriving in an attacking role, Nanu spent May through July marauding up and down the wings for the Wolves against quality NPSL competition, endearing himself to The Situation Room, FC Buffalo's supporters group, through tenacity and moments of technical flair.
His versatility -- the Ontario, Canada native was adept as a fullback or a winger -- was key for Wolves coach Brendan Murphy to regularly fit Nanu into a crowded lineup, while the younger brother's trick-filled pregame juggling sessions with Andrew were must-see entertainment for early arriving fans.
The brothers' ensuing Niagara University men's soccer season could not be characterized as anything other than a disappointment, though. While Andrew suffered from an early-season injury and struggled to rediscover his form, Nanu spent most of the season healthy yet toiling on Eric Barnes' bench, watching as the Purple Eagles finished a dreadful 1-16-3.
After appearing in 18 matches as a sophomore, Nanu entered just seven matches as a junior, none of them starts.
Before he and Andrew depart for Florida, BN Soccer conducted an email interview with Nanu:
BN Soccer: Credit to you for making it through a tough Niagara season and still looking to further your soccer career. What kept you hungry? How tough was it to stay hungry?
Nanu Ferguson: Although I've had a very tough collegiate career, I've always had a hunger and a need to play soccer. Ever since I was young I have told my family and friends that I want to be a professional soccer player and I feel that my family really believes in me.
They keep me going when I am going through the lows and are always cheering me on when I am riding the highs. They are the fuel that keeps me going.
It is not hard to stay hungry when I have such a great cast of people and a family that support me so much.
Also, I have always believed that your dreams can come true if you put your mind to it. You cannot be scared of failure and you must be ready to go through the tough times, such as this season, and still believe that there is a reason to what you are doing.
For me, my dream is enough to keep me hungry.
BN Soccer: What kind of a support figure has Andrew been through the Niagara years?
Nanu: My brother and I have always been very close with each other and, when he had the opportunity to come to Niagara, I was very excited. Although it did not work out perfectly once he got here, we were always encouraging each other to keep fighting and pushing through the adversity. We really support each other when it comes to achieving our goals.
BN Soccer: In terms of the NPSL Combine, what kind of an opportunity is this for you?
Nanu: The NPSL Combine is a great opportunity for me. My dream is to play professional soccer at a top level and this is a step in the right direction. I will be able to get some extra exposure that I was not able to get at Niagara. FC Buffalo really allowed me to showcase myself this season and clearly the NPSL noticed, and I hope to continue to impress during this combine.
BN Soccer: What’s the key to sticking out at a combine? There’s that tension of impressing individually yet still fitting within the context of the team.
Nanu: For me, the key to sticking out at the combine will be to play within myself -- try not to complicate things early on and get a feel of the game before trying anything out of the ordinary. Once I am settled I will try to do a few extra things and try to send a few longer, more difficult balls so that the people who are watching can see the quality that I possess.
Sticking out does not mean dribbling through the team every single time. I believe it is a combination of doing the right thing at the right time and showing the audience that you have knowledge, along with exceptional abilities. Fitting in with the team and impressing the audience go hand in hand.
You will not be impressive if all you do is try to take on the other team by yourself. It is important that you use your teammates and make runs off of your teammates in order to show that you can fit yourself into any team.
BN Soccer: What qualities of yours do you expect coaches to notice?
Nanu: I believe that my knowledge of the game and my ability to make runs will be something to look at while watching me play at the combine. I feel that there will be a lot of technical skill, but some players may lack the knowledge. That is what will separate the good from the great at this combine.
My runs up and down the wing will allow me to be noticed and hopefully get the ball in space enough times to try some moves to get by players. Also my freestyle in the warm-ups isn't too bad either (just kidding).
Email Ben Tsujimoto at firstname.lastname@example.org