Ryan Creager was a promising arena soccer player whose career took a detour, but he was able to enjoy a triumphant coda with a call-up to the US National Arena Soccer Team and a chance to play in his hometown.
Creager left his native Sandy, Utah at 17 to play soccer for CSU Pueblo in Colorado, where he captained the squad for two years and was four-time all-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and two-time NSCAA all-Midwest Region first-team selection, and parlayed that into a professional soccer career only to fall through the cracks and drop out of soccer.
Shortly after he made his professional debut with the PASL-Pro’s Denver Dynamite in 2008, Ryan secured a spot on the newly formed US National Arena Soccer Team. He was called up for duty when the US traveled to Monterrey, Mexico for a tournament. He played in all four games and, on November 6, 2008, scored the decisive shootout goal in a 7-6 win over Peru, the first win in USNAST history.
Creager would go on to play for a couple PASL-Premier teams including the Colorado Blizzard, but in the turbulent Colorado indoor scene Creager got lost in the shuffle and played his last league game in the 2012/13 season.
After a move to La Jolla, California Creager got the itch to get back in the game and was planning to tryout for the San Diego Sockers when he tore his meniscus.
Now recovered, Creager got himself back in game shape and moved back home to Sandy. When he heard about the USNAST game and combine coming to Salt Lake City last month, he quickly registered.
Creager didn’t just do well at the tryout, he earned himself another call-up to the national team and played for the US on August 12 in a 7-6 overtime loss to Brazil at the Maverick Center.
“I was more excited that the USNAST was coming to Utah to play Brazil, than for the actual tryout to be honest,” Creager said. “I only learned about the tryout opportunity in the days leading up to it. The more I thought about it, I decided to give it a run out. It was an incredible wave of emotions and an honor to represent my country at the highest level again.”
The fairy tale ending didn’t quite work out. “The game was a bit of a bummer because late in the tryout I hyper-extended my MCL,” Creager said. “Throughout warm-ups I couldn’t even pass the ball without excruciating pain, but when the second quarter came around and Coach put me in, I tried to fight through the pain and block it out. However, this was a serious injury and one that I just couldn’t play with. I only played the second quarter, picked up a blue card, and then became the best cheerleader and supporter I could for my teammates.”
In April Creager got a job with Real Salt Lake as a Youth Foundation Coach. He also works with the RSL Special Olympic Unified Team, a project he is especially enthusiastic about.
He is currently a Program Manager at RSL’s new $72 million dollar Zions Bank Real Academy (ZBRA) in Herriman where he oversees and coordinates operations for all youth and adult recreation leagues, field rentals, tournaments, and private events. The soccer compound is designed to streamline the time required to develop world class players. Previously RSL had their development center in Casa Grande, Arizona but relocated to Utah in August. It is expected to be completed and open by the end of this year with leagues starting in January. The facility will be used by the professionals and the entire RSL organization during the day, but the community will be able to use the facility in the evenings.
“My playing career has come to an end,” Creager, 33, says, but he is at peace with it. “I have always enjoyed the game whether as a player, coach, or director of coaching, however, I am really enjoying a new aspect that I was rarely able to previously, simply being a fan and focusing on being entertained, not the outcome of the match.
“I will always remember that night at the Maverick Center because my parents, friends I grew up with, and my wife were all there to cheer me on and support me.”