Photo © Jessica Stone Hendricks Photography
You have to be a little crazy to play goalkeeper. A goalkeeper has to be fearless in front of the net, sacrificing life and limb for the team. They need to have an edge about them and be the unquestioned leader of the back line.
For D.C. United loanee and Richmond Kickers netminder Travis Worra, it’s been a work in progress to develop these attributes. That mentality started to form at an early age.
“For me, my inspiration has always come from me having a lot of energy,” said Worra with an enthusiasm in his voice. “Maybe it seems crazy to stick the kid with a lot of energy into goal. I liked as a kid to dive around and get dirty. That’s why I wanted to play goal so bad. I wanted to be the dirtiest kid out there and just roll around in the mud and that’s why it was perfect for me.”
Worra completed a decorated four year career at the University of New Hampshire where he started 59 games. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native recorded 21 shutouts, good for second in school history. Worra finished his college career in 2014 and knew that professional soccer was the next step. In fact, the summer before his senior year, Worra trained with North Carolina FC.
“They [North Carolina FC] had already offered me a contract, but D.C. United saw some game film and decided to bring me in for preseason,” Worra said. “It was me and six different goalkeepers on trial including myself throughout that preseason. I just worked as hard as I could and was fortunate enough to take advantage of the situation and the timing of everything. It’s my fourth year with the club up there and I’m pleased to play out the entirety of my rookie contact.”
So here Worra is now in the final year of his rookie contract with D.C. United. Looking back it’s been a bumpy ride to get to this point. Worra experienced his first MLS action under some precarious circumstances in 2015. D.C. United starting goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra hobbled off the field with an ankle injury and Worra was called upon as his replacement in the 58th minute. Worra held the Vancouver Whitecaps scoreless the rest of the game and D.C. won 2-1 in his debut.
“The biggest thing that was going through my mind was that we were tied 1-1 and I just wanted to go get a win,” Worra said. “That’s always my mentality no matter where I’m at. Training or game, I want to win everything. That was the first thing that went through my head, but after the game all I could think of was ‘Oh, holy crap I just did it.’ It’s been my dream forever to play on an MLS team. D.C. United was the first team I supported. D.C. United was the first professional game I went to. Doing it for them was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The rangy keeper quickly learned the it’s often a rollercoaster of results and emotions in professional soccer. Worra had a breakout year in 2016 with D.C. United. He started 13 games and collected 4 clean sheets, a record that led the league in the first half of the season. What went so well in 2016 for Worra quickly turned to disaster in 2017 with the Black and Red. Worra made five starts for United and lost all five games. The confidence that Worra had built the year before quickly began to fade away.
“It comes down to confidence,” Worra said. “My second year, I went on a really good run, and at first I was really happy to be in. Then we started getting some results as a team. I felt like I really started to come into my own and all of a sudden I had this massive confidence. I belong. I’m not just here for show. I can really help make a difference on this team and in this league. It carried me a long away. Along the way, as much as that was a great high, I started five games last year in the MLS and lost all five. That confidence, it goes up and it goes down. I had a real look in the mirror situation. What happened this year? Why did we lose these games?”
That talk with the man in the mirror helped Worra finish the 2017 season on a high note with the Kickers. Worra started the last nine games of the season in the USL. Richmond won five of those games with the help of Worra after only winning three previously.
“To go on that sort of a run gave me that confidence back that I belong,” Worra said. “I had it within me and sometimes you just have to remind yourself of those things and not let a bad result or two or five weigh you down.”
This year the netminder is back with the Kickers on loan from D.C. United. While he’s still in Richmond, Worra spends his training sessions working with Adrian Clewlow, the Kickers Goalkeeping Coach. It’s during these practices that Clewlow gives Worra a dose of that all-important confidence. The United coaching staff also sends him clips from his games so Worra can focus on what he did well and what he can improve on.
“The most important thing is that Clewy gives me more confidence than any coach I’ve met,” Worra said. “That’s his biggest thing. Having the right mentality and if things go well, great, that’s the way we planned. If things go badly, we planned for it. Screw it, we’re on to the next one. He’s been incredibly influential in that way. I’m grateful to have someone as positive and upbeat as him.
“In their [D.C.’s] eyes, the most important thing for me is that I keep developing and I keep progressing. I’m still a young goalkeeper and these games are vital. They want me to learn, they want me to grow. Part of that is they want me to make mistakes because that’s one of the best ways to learn.”
It can be a little crazy, as life is as a goalkeeper, never knowing from when minute to the next if he’ll be in Richmond or D.C. One injury up in D.C. and Worra gets the phone call that he’s needed to hop on 95 North and make the trip to the Nation’s Capital. This leaves Worra in a quandary wondering where he fits in with both squads.
“It’s incredibly difficult to be between both teams,” Worra said. “A lot of the times I think where do I belong. Which group will have me? Sometimes I don’t feel a part of one or the other because it’s a real up and back, up and back. The guys here [in Richmond] have really made me one of their own. So much of a goalkeeper’s role is being a leader. Whether I’m on the field or not, I still want to be as active and a part of both teams as possible. In particular here because this is where I get the bulk of games. I want to always be an integrated part of the team even if I do have to go up there for a week or two like I’ve done twice this season. That’s been really important to me.”
Worra unquestionably has a place in Richmond as the gangly 6-foot-3, 175 pounder between the sticks. The goalkeeper whose formula for success combines a load of confidence with just the right amount of craziness.