Between the years of 2011 and 2015, Matt Polster was a defender for the SIUE Cougars. After graduating, Polster was given the opportunity to play for the Chicago Fire team and now, he has been drafted to play for the U.S. National Soccer team.
Polster said his mother sparked his interest in playing soccer when he was a toddler and he was naturally good at the sport.
“When my family moved to North Carolina when I was three years old, my mom put [me] in the soccer class at the YMCA, and she noticed I was good at it,” Polster said.
According to Polster, being able to play for the U.S. National Soccer team is surreal and a dream come true.
“Obviously it’s a dream and an honor,” Polster said. “Not many players get this opportunity, and I am just in awe. I am getting to play with some of the best players in the country, and it is just truly awesome.”
In the four years that Polster played for the Cougars, he played a total of 79 games, started in 79 games, scored 6 goals, 12 goals conceded, 25 shots on goal with a .313 percentage and 80 shots with a .075 percentage.
When Polster graduated, he was drafted to play for the Chicago Fire soccer team. During his rookie season, he played 30 games, started in 27 games, had 12 shots, four shots on goal and zero goals.
Polster said he had a lot of aspirations for playing soccer, so he made plans around the sport and set himself in motion to achieve his dreams.
“I made many goals for myself,” Polster said. “After high school, I wanted to play Division I soccer, and I achieved it. I wanted to win a conference title, and I achieved that. I set so many goals [in order to] to get drafted.”
Polster said the season that he played for the Chicago Fire team was a great learning experience and being able to play for the team was a big accomplishment in itself.
“I think in general, the season I played, those were big moments,” Polster said. “I would just say the whole season, putting in the practice and this being my job, is the biggest thing for me.”
Although Polster graduated, he said SIUE well prepared him for his life as a professional player.
“I think SIUE did a fantastic job,” Polster said. “The coaches have been some of the best; the college and organization is very professional.”
Polster said he has high praises for the SIUE soccer program and he can only see it becoming more monumental in the future.
“[Former SIUE Head Coach] Kevin Kalish recruited me,” Polster said. “He is very soccer oriented and helped me develop as a player. [Current Head Coach Mario Sanchez] knows the college really well and helps develop players and get them to draft, so I think SIUE is becoming a bigger program.”
Polster said his goals do not stop at the U.S. National Soccer team. He said he has a goal and desire to make it to the Olympic soccer team.
“I’m ambitious, and I want to make it to the Olympic team,” Polster said. “I want to play in the World Cup, and I know it’s possible. If I keep working hard, I can play at a high level in big tournaments.”
Kalish, who coached Polster during his time at SIUE, said he has seen a lot of growth in Polster over the years.
“[Polster] is a unique special talent,” Kalish said. “He is extremely gifted athletically, and he can play multiple positions. He is an intense competitor and every aspect you wanted in a student athlete; he was an example of that.”
Kalish said Polster was naturally gifted on the field and exhibited what it meant to be a leader and a great teammate.
“Matt played multiple positions, and he was arguably going to be your best player,” Kalish said. “He matured over the course of four years, and mentally, he learned how to become a better leader and teammate.”
Kalish said with Polster being chosen to play for the U.S. National Soccer team, it speaks volumes for how serious the SIUE men’s soccer program is.
“It is an unbelievable accomplishment because he put in a lot of work,” Kallish said. “It says a lot about the support staff at SIUE and the entire staff in his overall development. It helps puts SIUE back on the map.”
Although Sanchez did not coach Polster during his time playing for SIUE, he said that this is a great accomplishment for him and is happy that someone is representing SIUE on a national level.
“It’s a huge honor, and [with] soccer being the world’s most popular sport, we are an honored and proud that someone is representing SIUE,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said Polster’s honor reflects not only on the athlete, but on the SIUE soccer and athletic programs as a whole.
“It shows the whole country that SIUE supports soccer at the highest level,” Sanchez said. “It shows how serious we are about men’s soccer as well as supporting their dream athletically and academically.”
Sanchez said Polster is an inspiration to current players because he shows that their dreams of playing on a professional level are attainable.
“I think it [has] a huge impact [on] current students,” Sanchez said. “It gives them something to reach for and makes it even more real for them.”
Joe Pott, of Broadcast and Media Relations and spokesperson for men’s soccer, said he had the pleasure of watching Polster’s game improve while being a student at SIUE.
“I watched him, and I saw probably the majority of his games,” Pott said. “I know him a little bit, but only through our relationship at SIUE.”
Pott said he is proud to see someone be able to represent the Cougar legacy and SIUE soccer on a grand scale.
“I think the biggest thing is the fact he represents the strong tradition of SIUE soccer,” Pott said. “It is just great to see someone carry the Cougar legacy.”