By Matt Schwab
Special to Mustang Soccer
Goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski is a rising star in American soccer and a shining example of the Mustang program.
An Alamo native who grew up playing three sports, Marcinkowski holds of the distinction of being the San Jose Earthquakes' third-ever Homegrown signing in 2017, joining Tommy Thompson and fellow Mustang product Nick Lima.
Currently, Marcinkowski trains in San Jose and competes with Reno 1868 FC, even helping Reno earn a clutch 4-1 road win over FC Sacramento Republic on May 11.
And to think things all got rolling in Mustang Soccer. The ball skills JT honed during six years with his top-class hometown club, from U-9 to U-14, are paying off in the modern game in which goalkeepers are like the 11th field player.
“From an early age at Mustang my coaches Fred Wilson and Juan Guerrero, they always pushed me to put it at my feet,” Marcinkowski, 22, said during a recent interview. “They always pushed me during practice to play on the field. I’m so lucky they did because it gave me the foundation to keep getting better.”
The secret sauce for Marcinkowski, an elite athlete, might be the power of positive thinking.
“I think my parents raised me to kind of always see the positive in things,” Marcinkowski shares. “You never know what is going to happen, so you might as well enjoy it. I know how lucky and blessed I am to be in the situation I’m in. I want to work as hard as I can to keep going and keep pushing myself to be the best I can be.”
Last year, Marcinkowski was Reno 1886 FC Rookie of the Year and made five starts for the Quakes, including tossing a shutout against the Colorado Rapids. He also has 13 shutouts in 24 caps with national youth teams, including competing in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea and CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Costa Rica.
Marcinkowski, a De La Salle High graduate and one of four achieving siblings, also played baseball and basketball until the seventh grade. All three of his sports complemented each other.
“My dad (Steve) was my basketball coach and I loved that part of it, but baseball for me … I was a shortstop. I absolutely loved it. I loved the routine of taking infield and taking batting practice,” he recalls. “Looking back on it now it’s very similar, the shortstop position to the goalkeeper position; similar movements with your feet, side to side. You’re kind of the leader on the field. A lot of parallels to the positions.”
Marcinkowski also remembers some fierce practices on highly successful Mustang teams. He relished the challenges and camaraderie while also appreciating the “loving mentality” of the club.
“All the coaches are awesome,” he recalls. “They just want to try and get the best out of you. I think they do that in a way that also enhances you as a person, so it’s a really special club.”
Marcinkowski also marvels at how Mustang has become a hub for top talent ever since it built its two first-class turf fields and a fieldhouse in 2007. The club has sent many boys and girls to college and professional play.
“It shows how investing in the youth really does help and they’re really excelling at it,” Marcinkowski says.
With so much on his plate these days, Marcinkowski tries not to get too caught up in the big picture, even though he is among a wave of top young Americans. He strives to set a good example for younger players and fans through hard work. He's determined to keep pushing himself to new heights.
“There’s always something more, there’s always something I’m striving for or chasing, so you never want to be content with being a U.S. youth (national player),” he says. “Next step is a U.S. full international, but first it’s training every day properly and getting on the field with an MLS team, and we’ll go from there. Kind of step by step.”
He has seen the goalkeeper position become more challenging the past 10 to 15 years, which suits his skillset just fine.
“You look at the turn of the century and a little bit before that and they could still pick the ball up with their hands as the defense passes it back to them,” he says. “So, goalkeepers have really transitioned to the 11th field player, and I think that’s been a huge part of my success.”
He advises young players to learn and develop their minds as much as possible because “it’s a muscle like anything else,” he says.
Success runs in the talented Marcinkowski family. JT’s oldest brother, Joe, attended Monte Vista High and works for a startup company in Redwood City after being a mechanical engineer at Cal Poly. His sister, Stephanie, an accomplished dancer, works for a company, USA, for high school cheer and dance. His other brother, Johnny, also played baseball, basketball and soccer growing up, including winning four North Coast Section soccer titles at De La Salle. He’s now an athletic trainer at Texas A&M.
Clearly, JT is a shining star in the Mustang soccer family as well -- a bigtime player and leader by example.
He’s a keeper.