Of all the experiences Aaron Hohlbein can list from a successful soccer career spanning high school, college and now the professional ranks, playing in front of a national television audience is not one of them.
That will change Thursday when Hohlbein, less than two years removed from his playing days at the University of Wisconsin, will have a chance to showcase his skills under the bright lights of primetime as his Kansas City Wizards take on the Columbus Crew in Major League Soccers featured game of the week. The match will air live at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Hohlbein is expected to make his seventh-consecutive start for the Wizards, who are riding a four-game unbeaten streak in MLS play since falling 3-0 to Columbus on June 14.
Im excited for it, said Hohlbein, a native of Middleton, Wis. Its my first time playing on national TV and its nice to have the chance to go out and showcase our team and represent Kansas City.
I was talking to my mom about it, and she said everyone (in the family) has been asking about when Ill be on TV, so its great to know that my family and friends will be watching back home.
A defender/midfielder, Hohlbein has seen his role with the Wizards expand in his second professional season. He already has earned a starting nod in six matches this season after making a total of four starts as a rookie. Hohlbein also played in nine games for the Wizards reserve squad in his initial campaign after being selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2007 MLS Supplemental Draft.
I found my way into the lineup and now Im just working hard to keep improving, said Hohlbein, who played for the Badgers and head coach Jeff Rohrman from 2003 to 2006. Ive put in a lot of hard work to get to where Im in a position to start games and get a lot of minutes, and its very rewarding.
The Wizards have started the same four-man back line featuring Hohlbein in each of their last four games, with the defensive quartet allowing just two goals over that stretch. Kansas City is 2-0-2 since implementing the new crew of defensive starters.
Between the other guys and myself, I think were getting to know each other a little better and working well with our positioning and communication, Hohlbein said. I think everybody has just made a more concerted effort to push for wins and get better results. Weve turned a little bit of a corner and have some momentum going.
Besides carrying that momentum into the upcoming break for the MLS All-Star Game, the team also will look to shake the struggles it has encountered on the road this season. The Wizards are 4-2-1 at home but own a 1-3-4 mark away from Kansas City.
Its important to get a good result and keep playing well before the all-star break, Hohlbein said. Its important to go in there and try to get three points.
A victory is worth three points in the MLS standings, which currently have the Wizards tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference with 20 points.
Hohlbein became the fifth UW product to be selected in the MLS draft, and the second picked by the Wizards, when he was drafted following his senior season. Narciso Fernandes was taken by Kansas City in the fifth round of the 2000 draft, while former Badger Dominic DaPra also played for the team in 2001.
Just getting the call from the Wizards was a dream come true for Hohlbein, but that dream has continued to evolve as the opportunity for increased playing time presented itself in just his second pro season.
I didnt necessarily expect to be in this position but its exactly what you want to do, find your way into the starting lineup, he said. When things werent going as well I just kept plugging along, and the coaching staff has shown faith in me.
An outstanding collegiate career at Wisconsin helped groom Hohlbein for the professional ranks. Named team captain in each of his final two seasons, he started all 76 of the Badgers games over his four-year career in Madison.
A four-time All-Big Ten Conference selection, Hohlbein finished his Wisconsin career with 19 points, including six goals. In his senior season, he anchored a defensive effort that saw the Badgers hold opponents to just 15 goals in 19 games an outstanding average of 0.76 per game.
(College) gave me experience playing against tough competition and the opportunity to play for a great coaching staff, Hohlbein said. It instilled a great work ethic and a lot of those intangibles that make you successful.
Hohlbein stays connected to his Wisconsin roots as often as his demanding schedule allows. He recently spent a week training in the Kansas City area with his brother and former Badger teammate, Jed, who is pursuing professional opportunities of his own.
Ive tried to keep in touch as much as possible, and its tough with the hectic schedule we have, but I definitely keep tabs on whats going on with the Badgers, he said.
Hohlbein has managed to make the adjustment to the demands of the professional game, complete with intense training and heightened expectations, in relatively short order. That doesnt mean hes in a position to take the opportunity for granted.
Its something Ive wanted to do my whole life and I was never sure how it would pan out, he said. Im just thankful for the opportunity to come here last year and for the team keeping me around.
Its a business first and foremost so results are at a premium, but at the same time, its the same game and its still so much fun. I get to play the game I love.club=t105"> -->
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