After graduating from Georgetown University, Kyle Zajec (SFS ’18) got off to a great start playing for the New York Red Bulls II in the United Soccer League Championship.
In 2019, his first professional year with the club, Zajec started 15 games, played 1,259 minutes and scored three goals. He was named captain of the squad going into his second season, but July 22, 2020, only three games into the season, he fell hard on the turf and felt something crack.
“I got tackled, landed a little funny on my left foot and my fifth metatarsal snapped,” Zajec said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
A week later, he went into surgery and his season was over. Injuries are never easy, but this one was especially disappointing for Zajec.
“Right when it happened, I could tell that it was worse than a little ankle tweak and that was kind of devastating,” Zajec said. “The second year out of college is a big year, especially for a lot of USL guys, and the year had started off really well for me, so it kind of felt like the opportunity was gone.”
With a metal rod in his foot, Zajec said he was almost completely out of commission for the first few weeks after his surgery.
Zajec headed to Connecticut to be with his family and ease into recovery. As he sat at home, Zajec said he found himself looking ahead to life after a finished athletic career.
“It pushed me to think about what I want to do after soccer and really tighten that area of my life because also this wasn’t a career-ending injury; it could have been,” Zajec said.
Zajec was an international economics major at Georgetown and a Big East All-Academic in each of his four years. Zajec said he thought economics lent itself well to finance, so he decided to spend some of his newfound free time developing skills to prepare himself for a potential career in the industry.
“I took a little bit of portfolio and asset management optimization, and my recent courses have been centered around Python with some finance and algorithmic trading,” Zajec said.
After a few weeks, Zajec headed back to Harrison, New Jersey, where the Red Bulls II play, and began his rehab process. The regimen started very slowly.
“It’s a lot of waiting, and you kind of want it to go faster and faster, but with a bone, you just have to wait for it to heal and solidify around the rod,” Zajec said.
He went in for rehab every day of the week for months and eventually started to see progress. Over the past few weeks, Zajec has gotten back on the soccer pitch for some individual training, which has been very rewarding, he said.
“It’s been ramping up recently and I’m happy about that,” Zajec said. “I didn’t really know I missed passing the ball until I actually started passing the ball again.”
The Red Bulls II are heading into preseason this week and will play their first club friendly against Philadelphia Union II on March 28. Excitement is high, and Zajec said he is eager to step back into his role as team captain.
“I want to show my coach that he can trust me as a captain and trust me to lead a team that’s going to be full of a bunch of younger guys,” Zajec said.
At the end of the day, Zajec is just happy to be playing soccer again. Red Bulls II fell short of postseason play for the first time in their history last year, so this season is a chance to get things rolling for the club, he said.
“I’m excited to just pick up where I left off last year,” Zajec said. “I just want to put a good season forward and hopefully progress through the organization — at the end of the day that’s my main goal.”
Zajec speaks glowingly of his time at Georgetown, where he started on the men’s soccer team from his sophomore year on and captained the team as a senior.
“There’s nothing like playing and living with your closest friends,” Zajec said. “I’m extremely thankful for the opportunities the staff gave me. They really pushed the whole Cura Personalis thing on me, and as a young freshman, I really needed that. Their guidance helped me mature from a little crazy high school kid into someone who could be a captain on a Georgetown soccer team and make something of himself.”
Zajec is representing Georgetown remarkably well at the next level and will no doubt make the most of his opportunities this season and in life.
Caden Koontz is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Hoya Headlines appears online every other week.