There is no easy way to get from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago to St. Augustine. But, Keith Matthews made the trip last week to watch his son play collegiate soccer for the first time.
Flagler College redshirt freshman Keiron Matthews made his fourth appearance for the Saints on Saturday night, but the first with his father in the crowd.
“He’s my No. 1 supporter, he pushed me all the time,” Keiron said. “When normally I think I had a good game, he pulls me aside and says ‘Keiron, you need to work on this and that, so next time in practice go and work on this.’ ... He just wants me to bring up the stuff that’s not on level.”
Matthews did not return to Trinidad & Tobago over the summer, so his parents have planned separate trips to St. Augustine. Keith came last week so he could catch a few home matches, while mom, Kathy Ann, will visit later in the academic year.
Keith’s constructive criticism was cut short, because the Saints’ non-conference match Wednesday against Florida Tech was canceled because of torrential rains.
Additional rainfall in the 72 hours before the canceled contest and Saturday’s 3-2 win over Clayton State meant Saints Field was soggy and conducive to more direct play. In some ways the conditions allowed the 6-foot-3-inch Matthews to use his height to win aerial duels; however, he conceded size is not everything when it comes to playing fullback.
“All in all, height doesn’t really matter. It’s talent. You have to think out the game and think out the situations. If Marco (Warren) was stuck at right back, he doesn’t have the size, but he has to use his intelligence to outsmart the player,” Matthews said about the 5-foot-4-inch Warren who typically plays as the Saints’ playmaker.
Matthews was slated to be the only new starter on a defense that returned four of its back five from last season. Goalkeeper Lex Craggs, central defender Jackie Kay and fullbacks Eoin Hyland and Caleb Austin were all firmly entrenched starters.
Craggs, Kay and Hyland all played 90 minutes Saturday night, but Hyland missed only the second match of his Flagler career with an injury. The plan to ease Matthews into a spot in central defense next to Kay was scrapped. Instead, he deputized in a position he has not played in nearly five years.
“Growing up back in my high school, my coach asked me to play right back. I was like ‘Coach, I will try my best.’ He trained me,” Matthews said of his time at Fatima College, a secondary school in Port of Spain.
“I played there, saw the situation with Eoin and said I was the best option. I said ‘Coach, I’ll play it.’ I knew it would be a challenge since it was five years since I played there. Every practice, Caleb and I, we stay after and I work on my touches, how to open up as a right back, how to kick the ball long as a right back. It’s coming along, but it’s a tough task so far.”
Matthews has started all four Flagler matches this season. The first three were at center back, while Saturday’s win was in place of Hyland at right back. Clayton State’s assault on the Flagler goalmouth, as well as the Lakers’ second goal, came primarily after Matthews was removed in the 73rd minute.
“He’s been great,” Flagler men’s soccer coach John Lynch said after Saturday’s win. “We have three injuries on the team and they are all right backs. It’s an issue for us that we’re dealing with. I feel very confident. ... It isn’t his natural position, but he was very good there tonight. ... We’re plugging a hole right now. Every college team has to do it at some point. We did it and we got away with it.”
Lynch said he didn’t realize Matthews could play one of the fullback positions until he volunteered to replace Hyland. The coach praised the defender, and his father, for the former wanting to come to Flagler and play soccer for the Saints. Lynch said Matthews has been a welcomed addition because he has the strength to be a center back, the versatility to play one of the fullback positions and the character to fit right in.
Matthews was accepted to a few schools, but chose Flagler, in part because it had the best soccer program.
“This year, training with the team and seeing the talent and depth in the squad, I thought this team has the potential to go all the way,” Matthews said.