Matt Midura doesn’t try to downplay what soccer means to him.
“Oh my God,” he said. “It’s been my life since I was four or five. I love the sport and everything about it. I want to ultimately play in college.”
The Nottingham High junior was one of the Colonial Valley Conference’s hidden gems this year. When a player collects seven goals and six assists for a team that goes 9-26-2 during his first two seasons, he doesn’t get a lot of fanfare.
But watch Midura play and his skills are apparent. Only 5-foot-6, he plays like a guy in love with the game.
“He’s definitely our team MVP,” coach Mike Braender said. “He is very good with his feet, he keeps himself out of trouble for being a smaller guy. He’s almost a step ahead of some of the other players. Sometimes you see him put balls in spaces for guys, and they’re either not in the space yet or just a step behind his plan of what he wants to do.”
Midura, whose sister Emily was a standout freshman on the Northstars girls team this fall, went through a rotating door of sports as a little kid.
“When I was real young, my parents just kept going through sports to find what I liked,” he said. “I didn’t like baseball, I didn’t like this, I didn’t like that. They signed me up for soccer, and I just loved it.”
Midura started in the Hamilton Recreation program, where he was coached by his dad. From there, he did what seemed to be a world tour of club teams.
“I’ll have to draw you a map to connect it,” he said with a laugh.
Midura started with the German American Kickers, moved to Cranbury and played up an age group there, and then spent three seasons with Match Fit. During two of those years, the team went 19-1-1, took the league title both years and reached the Super Y National semifinals. From there, he went to two different Princeton clubs, then to Monroe and finally to the Lower Makefield (Pa.) Patriots, where he’s at now.
“It was a real eye opener,” he said of the different competition. “Sometimes, you think you’re at the best level and playing very well, then you just get crushed by some team that’s overall better, bigger, faster and stronger. You know you have to keep improving and there’s no time to slow down on it.”
He was also exposed to numerous talented players who he learned from.
“There are things a kid will do and I’ll try to pick it up during the game,” he said. “If I see it works, I want to try and use it.”
Prior to his freshman season, Midura attended a Nottingham camp run by Braender and then-girls coach Elyse Diamond. Both coaches marveled over the player’s ability to control the ball on his own.
‘He’s a marked guy… It’s tough when everybody’s marking you, but he’s done a good job with it.’
“You could see the footwork was unbelievable,” Braender said. “We did a juggling drill, he juggled like 200 or 300 times in a row. Finally, I kind of kicked it off his foot and said ‘OK, you won the challenge.’”
Braender knew right away he had something special. Midura started his 9th-grade season on JV but got called up near the end of the year to get some varsity experience. It evidently helped, as he has played nearly every minute of every game over the past two years, and was a Northstars captain this season.
Despite his size, the midfielder is a nuisance to the opposition and a facilitator for the Northstars.
“That’s just from a lot of practice,” said Midura, who had three goals and three assists this season. “I would see things on videos and online, and I’d want to be able to do it. I would be in the basement or outside, and I’d just practice until I was able to do it.”
While he might try and hide behind bigger players, other teams know about Midura and pay close attention.
“He’s a marked guy,” Braender said. “He still has to find ways into space for himself to create for the rest of the team. It’s tough when everybody’s marking you, but he’s done a good job with it.”
The coach feels that Midura can sometimes be too unselfish, which hurts his statistics. He takes the free kicks and throw-ins and works hard to put his teammates in productive positions.
“The main thing is to be on the ball a lot,” he said. “I wasn’t necessarily the guy who was taking on a defender. But I was getting the ball from our defense, distributing it, getting the balls to our forwards. And defensively I had a lot of responsibility.”
With everything he needs to do on the field, Midura focuses on staying in shape. During the winter he works out with a friend’s father, doing a six-day training program that includes running, plyometrics, sprints, lifting and various fitness tests.
Midura’s trying to make himself stronger so that despite his height, he becomes difficult to take off the ball. He hopes to play in college.
“He’s definitely a soccer player through and through,” Braender said. “He loves the game, and he has the ability to make the players around him better, which is a huge aspect for us. He knows his teammates well and knows a lot of guys in the county, which helps us when we play other teams.”
Midura plays no other sports, as he feels nothing can beat the unpredictability of soccer. It’s safe to say if he were an actor, he would want to chuck the script and perform plenty of ad-libs.
“I just like the quickness of it and how it’s so off the fly,” Midura said. “You never know what’s going to happen. In basketball and those other sports, you have set plays. In soccer, you base things off what happens next or what happened previously. It’s great fun, and there’s a lot of creativity you can throw in here.”
And Midura has loved every minute of it from the very start.