NJ Starz: Eric Klenofsky

Hometown: Lincoln Park

By: Katie Bohn

The power and appeal of soccer is universal. Just ask Eric Klenofsky, the head of academy goalkeeping for the Houston Dynamo professional soccer club. 

“Soccer is a universal language,” says Klenofsky. “It goes across race, ethnicity, location, any kind of barrier that may stand in the way of any other type of societal structure. Soccer is in every country in the world. Do I speak German? No. Do I speak French? No, but I can dribble a soccer ball with you. That is what is unique to soccer as opposed to many other sports, it’s global.” 

Klenofsky’s personal list of soccer experience and achievements is extensive. He played high school soccer for DePaul Catholic High School in Wayne all four years where he was goalkeeper for the DePaul Spartans. “I was the captain my senior year and my junior year we won the first ever county championship in the history of the high school which was awesome.” He was first team all state his junior and senior year and from there was selected for the high school boys soccer All American team where he went and played at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Klenofsky, 28, was the first ever representative in the history of DePaul Catholic High School at the All American soccer game. Post high school, he first committed to Southern Methodist University but when that fell through he ended up at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, near the Jersey shore. Klenofsky says his time playing soccer as a starter at Monmouth was an “amazing” experience. “I graduated early because I did summer classes and I ended up getting drafted 34th overall in the 2017 MLS draft to D.C. United. My junior and senior year of college I was Goalkeeper of the Year for the conference.” 

There seems to be no shortage of successful soccer goalkeepers who hail from New Jersey. Klenofsky shares memories of playing against Premier League club Arsenal and United States National Team goalkeeper Matt Turner in both high school and college. “Saint Joseph’s was in our high school conference when I was at DePaul Catholic and in our college conference was Fairfield University and Matt Turner was a goalkeeper at Saint Joe’s when I was in high school and he was a goalkeeper at Fairfield as well.” Klenofsky calls winning Goalkeeper of the Year accolades over Turner “incredibly ironic” considering the direction Turner’s career took. “There is absolutely something in the water in New Jersey in terms of goalkeepers,” laughs Klenofsky. “The 1994 World Cup had Tony Meola [who is from] New Jersey. After that came Tim Howard who went to Montclair Kimberley Academy in New Jersey and played for Manchester United and is arguably the greatest American goalkeeper in the history of the country.” Howard played goalkeeper for the United States soccer team in both the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups. “In the last eight World Cups, about seventy percent [featured] New Jersey goalkeepers,” says Klenofsky. 

Klenofsky’s lengthy accomplishments in the soccer world did not come without some hurdles and challenges. “One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome was my own self-doubt. You have challenges, you either succeed or you don’t. There’s a voice in your head that says ‘Yes, you can do it.’ There’s another that says ‘Maybe you shouldn’t’ or ‘You probably can’t’. That stemmed from my own self-awareness of what my actual level was as a player. I had three knee surgeries in my first four years of playing professionally. Every time I took a step forward, I would get knocked back. I would definitely say that was probably one of the biggest challenges I had to get through. Having two surgeries in my rookie year was really difficult. Another difficult time was my senior year at DePaul I was already committed to Southern Methodist University. The day before signing day in May of my senior year I got a call from the coaching staff saying that I wasn’t admitted to the school academically. I had gotten some senioritis and gotten metaphorically punched in the face a couple months before my senior year was over [with the news.]. Those were two really hard moments for me.” However, Klenofsky goes on to say, “I really needed to get metaphorically punched in the face at that age. I needed to taste a little bit of adversity. Sooner or later I was going to have to taste a bit of adversity so I’m glad that it happened then. I’ve been able to approach a lot of challenges following that with a lot of resilience and logic.” 

Helping the DePaul Spartans win their first ever Passaic County Championship in 2012 is on Klenofsky’s list of greatest accomplishments in his soccer career. His time spent playing NCAA Division I men’s soccer at Monmouth University is also on that list. During Klenofsky’s freshman and sophomore years in college playing for the Monmouth Hawks, he led the NCAA in goals against average, with the Hawks conceding the least amount of goals in the country two years in a row. “My freshman stat was 0.22 goals per game which I think is third or fourth all-time single season record for the NCAA. I am immensely proud of the longevity that I’ve had and the career that I’m building, whether playing or coaching. I’m proud of the person I’m developing into and that kind of stuff means more to me than just a singular moment [of career achievement]. It’s more about a collection of moments for me.” 

One of those moments occurred during the time Klenofsky played in the MLS for D.C. United. A self-proclaimed “massive” fan of Tim Howard, Klenofsky found himself sharing a field with the man he respected so much. “My rookie year playing for D.C. United I made the roster to go play against Colorado Rapids. Tim Howard had just transferred from Everton over to the Colorado Rapids. I’m warming up for the game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver and Tim Howard jogs onto the field and I’m thinking to myself that six months ago I was playing in West Long Branch and now I’m sharing a field with Tim Howard. A moment like that is the culmination of years of hard work.” Klenofsky says the height of his career was being invited on trial (a soccer tryout or audition) with Premier League club Everton in Liverpool. “Being an American playing in Europe is what every soccer player wants to do,” says Klenofsky. “That was an amazing moment for me.” 

When asked about future career goals, Klenofsky emphasizes the importance of one word in particular: longevity. “One of the things that Tim Howard talks about a lot in interviews is longevity. That is a main goal for me, to have longevity and to be a part of the fabric of a club. I’m with the Houston Dynamo right now. I want to be in Houston working for this club, growing with this club for years. One of the things I really want to accomplish is to put together a really strong body of work that is backed by years and years of evolution and productivity. I would also love to coach at the highest level I possibly can. I would love to say I was a first team goalkeeper coach in the MLS, in the Premier League, or in the World Cup.” 

As Head of Academy Goalkeeping for the Houston Dynamo soccer club, Klenofsky now works with a younger generation on soccer skills that he grew up learning and playing. He is constantly amazed at the level of talent he sees on a day-to-day basis. When asked what he notices in a player with exceptional talent he replies, “Speed of learning is massively important. At the same time, you have to have a deep desire and a deep love for goalkeeping along with athleticism and coordination.” 

When asked if he has any advice he’d like to impart on young people looking to be successful in the soccer world, whether as a goalkeeper or any other position, Klenofsky says, “You have to be doing it because you love it. We’re not in the business of forcing anyone to love the game. You’re always more likely to get better at things that you enjoy doing. Make sure you enjoy doing it because there will be a lot of sacrifices, a lot of ups and downs that you will have to manage as best you can. Also make sure that soccer is a part of you, but not all of you.” 

For more information on Eric Klenofsky or the Houston Dynamo, please visit www.houstondynamoacademy.net


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