Brandt Betts was named the Bob Gansler Academy Player of the Year on Friday during Pitch Black, Sporting Kansas City’s annual awards ceremony at Children’s Mercy Park.
Betts has been a member of the Academy for seven years, and throughout most of his time he endured the thick and thin until he earned the award that justifies all of the work he has put into his journey.
Betts has always loved soccer so much, he can’t even remember the time when his dream wasn’t to become a soccer player. Although his path in the Academy wasn’t always smooth and easy, it provides a motivational story for the books.
As Sporting KC U-17/19 head coach Rumba Munthali says, “Brandt has had a challenging journey through the Academy. He has been a part-time player, a developmental player, a supporting player and a bench player, all the way to becoming a consistent starter and group leader.”
Betts was just 12 years old when he first tried out for the Academy, but he was told to work on his game and give it another try in the future. That’s exactly what he did for two years, attending multiple tryouts as the Academy coaching staff tried him out in several different positions on the field—even though his original position was a No. 8 or a No. 10.
Betts says that experience put him out of his comfort zone, which triggered his progress and development as a player. “I guess they started to see that in me,” he says of the determination the coaches saw in him.
At age 14, Betts was finally given a full-time roster spot in the Academy. As a member of the Sporting KC U-15s, Betts was also given the opportunity to train with the U-16s and U-17s. All along, he maintained strong belief in himself. “I knew with my mentality that one day, I was going to get up there and start and take some kid’s spot,” he says.
Now he plays outside back in his second year as a consistent starter for the U-19s. He became someone that the coaches can always rely on. He worked so hard and so diligently that he eventually earned his position.
“We always know what we’ll get when Brandt shows up quality-wise,” says Jon Parry, Sporting KC Academy Director for the last 11 years. “He brings it to every training and every matchday.”
After a while, Betts became a leader for his team. This important leadership role is one he takes seriously, and he knows the responsibility that comes with it.
“Being a leader on the field is helping the person next to you while helping yourself,” Betts says. “Leadership is not met by one thing. It’s the actions a person takes when people are looking but mostly when they are not looking.”
Everyone in the Academy family knows how Betts is. He helps to pick up the trash, cleans the locker room and keeps his teammates in check. It’s also important for him to give back to his community by volunteering to help. “Not only is he invested in being the best soccer player that he can be, but he is equally invested in being the best global citizen he can be,” Munthali says.
That said, Betts claims it’s the Academy system that has changed him for the better.
“Besides my soccer skills, my social skills are really strengthened because the culture here is amazing. They bring the best out of you on and off the field. I know that every time I walk into this building, I learn something new and leave with something new. All the coaches care for our development. They are always outside during training to help us.”
Betts says being close to the USL Championship club Swope Park Rangers every day at Swope Soccer Village is beneficial for the Academy players. “Being integrated helps with the development of a player,” he says, adding that open communication is very important at the Academy. “That’s something I can adopt in my life no matter where I’m going to end up.”
Parry adds, “The Academy Player of the Year award is about someone who embodies the core values and culture of the club, and Brandt’s been with us a long time. He went through ups and downs and never gave up.”
For Betts, the award certainly means that his hard work is acknowledged, and that makes him smile.
“It’s a huge honor to have and a big motivation going forward, but I know that I still need to be better every single day,” he says. Betts is hungry for more and maintains his dream of playing professionally.
His final chapter with the Sporting KC Academy is here with the U-19s. Last season, they made it to the quarterfinals of the Development Academy Playoffs. The goal this year is to go a few steps further. For Betts, it’s strange to think about the fact that this is his final year.
“Honestly, I’m pretty devastated this is my final season. But I’m definitely going to come back, because this is like a second home to me,” Betts says. “I have so many connections here, it’s just unbelievable to think about. The environment and the people here make the learning process so enjoyable.”
Betts earned more reps this summer while training with Kaw Valley FC of USL League Two. He says it was a good physical and mental challenge and a learning experience that will only help him moving forward.
Next year, Betts plans to attend college where he will continue to pursue his soccer dreams. “I’ll keep striving to become a better player and hopefully get picked up somewhere,” he says. “It would be nice if it would be the within the Sporting KC organization, but who knows what the future holds.”
Munthali is confident that no matter what challenges Brandt will face, he is someone who will be successful in life—whether it’s on the soccer field or in other avenues he chooses to pursue. “He is a great representation on and off the field of what we hope Academy players become,” Munthali says.
“I think my favorite memory is not reaching this point, but my whole pathway here,” Betts says. “I think it reflects on who I am and how I was able to persevere through my entire journey with the academy.”