Who was your sporting hero as you were growing up?
“That’s a good question, I am from St Louis which is a big Baseball town and so when I was a kid the Cardinals signed Mark McGwire. My dad would take me down and this guy just popped out seventy home runs in the year and set the new single season home run record. That for me was the main guy.”
What is the dream for kids growing up in the US who love soccer, is it to aim for the MLS, or European leagues?
“I think we are at a moment in time where the dream is beginning to shift, if you asked me that question five years ago I would think most people would say that they would love to play in one of the top European leagues. However now the way that the landscape of the game has changed and how it is shaping up here, it’s crazy, the amount of time and money that is being poured into academies and youth soccer.
There is now a clear pathway into first teams, going into training sessions and also the USL pro is another league that players can develop and play games in. It’s changed and now there is more of a dream to for players to play in the MLS one day than there used to be a couple of years ago.”
You were a prolific goal scorer at school and college level, is that where you thought, ‘I can make it as a pro?’
“That was a dream in the back of my mind but to be honest I didn’t really focus on it. I went to a high school that was very competitive and I never actually played a minute of varsity soccer. I got cut from the team in my junior year, I did play as a sophomore and freshman but then in my senior year I tore my ACL. So eventually I ended up walking onto a division two team in Kansas City, Missouri and I went there because they had a no-cut policy. I prayed a lot about it and felt the Lord leading me there. It was an unbelievable experience, I met my wife there and I ended up getting called up by Columbus Crew. I actually only played for three years at college because I ended up tearing my ACL again, however the Lord had provided a place for me at University. With soccer, I see it as a blessing and very humbling.”
So tearing your ACL twice must have been really tough?
“It is a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual challenge, when you love something so much and then have it taken away from you, it challenges you in so many ways. It was really tough because I had just got my foot in the door but I find that in my life God uses things like that to draw me closer to him. So I feel that through those experiences he was making sure that I stayed close to him.”
What other forward in world football would you say that you love to watch or admire?
“The name of that guy is Robert Lewandowski, I love to watch his game and how clinical he is with his finishing. He has got good feet and is a simple player, get him in the final third though and he is very precise.”
So you have played for some great MLS clubs, Columbus Crew, Vancouver and now Tampa Bay, what’s been your personal highlight?
“That’s a really tough question because for me winning a championship is the pinnacle of what we do as soccer players. I was part of a team that won a championship in 2010 and then I was part of a team that did the same last season, which was with Ottawa. I would probably give you that one because it is the most recent”.
Who is the best player that you have played against in your career?
“I have played against Gary Cahill but it is tough to go wrong with Thierry Henry, David Beckham and Landon Donovan. They are probably the top ones.”
Tommy you are the director of the Heinemann Soccer camp, what drove you to do create that?
“It was actually something that I started at eleven years old, I wanted to make a bit of money. I started a camp to make an extra bit and by high school I had eighty to ninety kids coming through my camp and so it just took off. Coaching is something that I love to do because of the impact that you can have on people, it’s fun to be able to do that alongside playing. It’s just a good platform to have.”
Tell us a bit about how you came to know God?
“I gave my life to Christ when I was eight years old through a scripture memory programme, it was at that moment when I made a decision to love the Lord and to pursue him. I was a little bit of a rebellious kid but once I got into middle school I really started to pursue God and follow him. The blessing of playing soccer as a profession is something I would not have if it wasn’t from the Lord. I have had seven surgeries in my life and to have the game constantly given and taken away has meant that God has really taught me a lot through that. He wants me to pursue him first, that my worth is found in him and not the game. That has transformed soccer for me into a way that I can worship the Lord.”
ICYMI, here is @TommyHeinemann's first official goal with the Rowdies.
— Tampa Bay Rowdies (@TampaBayRowdies) April 18, 2016
What impact have club chaplains had on how you view the game in America?
“A massive impact because we have matches on the weekend which makes it quite difficult to get to church, to be able to be nurtured and fed spiritually. So to be able to have a resource at each club, to pour into us and bring challenge helps so much to connect with God and team mates. It has been important in my life and I am so grateful for the chaplains that I have had. It’s one of those things where it has be handled in a delicate manner and it takes communication, that you aren’t segregating the dressing room. It is a resource for guys to get together and connect on a spiritual level.”
What advice would you give to young Christian players just starting out in the game?
“I get this question a lot and I can never emphasise enough how important it is to stay close to the Lord. In this day and age it is so easy to get caught up with what people think, having your value and work based on results but the main thing is to seek first the kingdom of God. To be a professional athlete and to do anything in life it takes sacrifice but what you cannot afford to sacrifice ever is the pursuit of the Lord.”
Do you connect with any other Christians in world of Soccer to talk about your faith?
“Yeah, predominantly through your squad but there is also a ministry called Embassadors who take a group of players every off-season and go on a tour trip to share Jesus with different countries. I went in 2013 and connected with Wells Thompson and a couple of other guys.”