He left Trinidad & Tobago for Columbia University, which led to more globe-trotting as a professional soccer player. Now Leslie Fitzpatrick can see a future with a road that leads back to Morningside Heights.
Perhaps Leslie Fitzpatrick's Columbia soccer career was preordained to success because of how he learned of the place. "I had heard of Columbia through a friend of mine, Dexter Skeene," he remembers, saying he "hadn't heard much of Columbia" before speaking to Skeene.
Fitzpatrick was talking to one of the central figures in Columbia soccer history. Skeene, a first team All-Ivy forward in 1985, played in Columbia's 1983 NCAA championship game — a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Indiana. With the score tied 0-0 "with seven minutes to go Solomon Gayle had a quick combination with Dexter Skeene," coach Dieter Ficken described to the Columbia Spectator last year. "Solomon powered the ball from the penalty spot at the empty goal, but one of our players had made a run and it hit him in the back of the head."
Not that he needed Skeene's recommendation. "I was being recruited by a few nationally ranked schools like University of Connecticut [and] James Madison," he says, "but never really considered them seriously when matched with Columbia. I knew that as long as I was going to attend college before trying to play professionally I should choose the option that gave me the best combination of academics and the ability to still develop myself in soccer. There was always going to be life after soccer, and Columbia's reputation in academia put it head and shoulders above the other options."
Columbia soccer was in something of a doldrums during Fitzpatrick's time there, but he was able to help lead them to a 4-2-1 Ivy mark with a first team All-Ivy performance in 2000 — its best record in six years, He especially remembers "my last collegiate game ever on senior day against Cornell University on my 22nd birthday, where I scored two goals and we won the game 2-1. I think I ran the full gamut of emotions that day from scoring the goals, to it being my birthday, to knowing that another chapter of my career was ending. It was one of the most emotionally charged days of my life."
Academically "it turned out not to be too difficult." He explains, "Trinidad and Tobago schooling is molded in the vein of the British educational system, which is quite demanding and rigorous. Don't get me wrong, there were challenges a lot of times and a few all nighters along the way. But I also had the goal of playing professionally, so I did not want to be forced to delay that further by not graduating on schedule."
He also credits Associate Athletic Director Jackie Blackett. "Jackie had an astute knowledge of the academic standards to be maintained, and assisted in ensuring that as students we not only survived, but excelled while at Columbia."
After graduating with a double major in economics and political science Fitzpatrick played professionally with the Atlanta Silverbacks and Cincinnati Riverhawks, of USL Division 1, and with Real Salt Lake of the MLS. Professionally, "I am a free agent and am entertaining some offers in Europe, Asia, USA and back home in Trinidad," he says. Since 2004 he has also been playing on the Trinidad & Tobago national team, "playing in the World Cup qualification games in which Trinidad & Tobago was successful in making it to the World Cup."
As for the future "without serious injuries, I probably have about seven or eight more years of playing left," he thinks. After that he's considering "doing a graduate degree in International Relations as politics or something within the sphere of the UN." He's also thinking about coaching. "I have done a number of coaching courses while playing," he says, and "this may be an avenue I intend to pursue." If he takes this path, "taking up the job one day as the Head Coach of the Columbia Men's Soccer program is a goal."
Perhaps this goal shows how he feels about Columbia. "In life you always look back in retrospect and would like to change certain things. But if I was given a script detailing my undergraduate years and told I had to do it exactly the same, I would do it in a heartbeat."
— Stephen Eschenbach