On January 13, graduate and Oakville native Joe Willis sat at his computer watching the 2011 Major League SuperDraft, looking for teams needing goalkeepers.
“I was expecting if I were to get picked in the SuperDraft it would be toward the end. And when I saw Seattle took the goalie from Monmouth in the second round, then I pretty much thought that was it, since I didn’t see any other teams needing goalies,” Willis said.
Shortly after that the 6-foot-5-inch, 190-pound netminder got a call from an assistant coach at D.C. United who said the team traded for the 50th overall pick in the SuperDraft and was going to take Willis.
“I was surprised, and I didn’t know what to say,” Willis said. “I called my parents and my brother right away. It was just exciting and unbelievable.”
“It was a great feeling to see that after getting to know him on a personal level,” Chaminade's goalie coach Joe Morgan said. “He didn’t even come close to having his full potential in high school, but we knew he was going to get a lot better with hard work and desire because he had the necessary physical tools.”
There are more than a dozen St. Louisans currently playing in the MLS, including Will Bruin, who was drafted by the Houston Dynamo and i However, Willis is the first goalkeeper from St. Louis County selected in the MLS SuperDraft.
“I’m very proud being from St. Louis and playing in St. Louis,” Willis said. “It’s really cool being from St. Louis now playing with guys from all over the world and talking about your youth and hometown."
“It’s awesome for St. Louis because now all the young goalies in the area know who Joe Willis is, and it inspires those kids to be better,” said Tim Kelly, Scott Gallagher Soccer Club's goalie coach.
The former Oakville resident is one of three goalies from around the St. Louis area in the MLS. Matt Pickens is the goalkeeper for the Colorado Rapids and is a native of Washington, MO. St. Peters native Alex Riggs went undrafted in 2011, but was signed by the Columbus Crew before the start of the season.
Willis became a serious goalkeeper starting in seventh grade playing for the Chaminade High School C team. Willis eventually became the No. 1 netminder for Chaminade and earned all-state honors in his senior season.
“I had played goalie a little bit before, and they needed goalie. So, I picked it up again,” Willis said. “I like the pressure of being the last line of defense. And it’s very exciting for me. And I just love diving and flying through the air making saves.”
Willis played club soccer for Scott Gallagher Soccer Club in Fenton and anchored the team to three consecutive state championships from 2004 to 2006. Willis also led Gallagher to a regional championship, which earned him a trip to nationals.
“The year we made it to nationals was my favorite year playing St. Louis soccer because we had an unbelievable team with just a bunch of good guys,” Willis said. “Playing for Chaminade was always awesome, too, because I still have a lot of friends from that team.”
Willis went on to play Division I soccer at Denver University. He made 51 starts during his career while posting 15 shutouts. He was named the team MVP in 2008 and made first team all-conference in the Mountain Pacific Soccer Federation three straight years from 2008 to 2010.
“Joe had an incredible career at DU, and we are excited to watch as he takes the next step toward professional soccer,” Denver head coach Bobby Muuss said. “We all wish him the best and look forward to watching him with D.C. United.”
Willis was also called up to the U20 National team in the fall of 2006 while he was a freshman at Denver.
“The thing about goalies is that their prime is 31 to 32 years old while a field player’s prime is much younger, so it’s a marathon and not a sprint for Joe,” coach Kelly said. “I think Joe’s laid back personality will help make him a successful professional goalie.”
“I want to thank all my coaches at Chaminade and Scott Gallagher, and I definitely would not be where I am today without their help,” Willis said.