Players get “missed” all the time.
But missing a 6’3” Tom Brady-look-a-like who races around the pitch and is prolific at doing the one thing–scoring–in the one position–striker–that is lacking at the national team level? Well that stands out like Justin Braun himself when he ambles onto the pitch.
If not for an amateur tournament in Carson, CA and catching the eye of then-Chivas USA coach Preki, Braun, as he tells it, would likely be chained to a desk for the bulk of the day working with numbers.
The 23-year-old Braun is having a stellar MLS season–notching 9 goals thus far–after making his pro debut just last year.
He’s now on the national team radar–and likely to receive his first cap in Chicago in a few days–and sees a move to play overseas as more than attainable.
TSG had a chance to catch up with the Chivas USA striker as he prepped to play the Union in Brotherly Town last week. Braun proved to be an even-keeled subject, quick to lavish praise for scoring on his teammates and only taking umbrage with a single question we asked him.
“So Justin, some folks seemed to have bestowed the nickname “Braunaldinho” on you, how do you…”
Braun, “Personally I really don’t like Braunaldinho.”
“Good, neither do we.”
Braun, “Fan groups have come up with Braunzilla and Z (Zach Thornton) calls me SuperBruan. Anything but Braunaldinho.”
It’s only fair that the man who nearly didn’t get a chance to make a name for himself has the last word on his nickname, no?
And now, our conversation with Chivas USA’s super striker, Justin Braun.
TSG: Hey Justin, how are you?
Justin Braun: I’m good, man.
TSG: A good campaign for you in a tough year for Chivas. What were your personal expectations heading into this season?
JB: The team knew things were going to be different with a new coaching staff. Change was coming and we were prepared for that.
We definitely had high hopes with the team. From day one, we always believed that we had a good team and a good group of guys. We believed we were going to do well.
Personally for me, I made a goal for myself to improve from the previous year and make myself known as a striker in MLS.
TSG: Where does the team sit now with less than a month left in the season. How’s the team feeling about closing out the year given that the playoffs are likely unreachable?
JB: I think we’re just taking it one game at a time and go out each week and get a few points.
There are slim playoff hopes, but the goal is just to keep winning.
TSG: You know, Chivas lost their playmaker in Sacha Kljestan early in the year due to his European transfer.
Do you feel the season would be having a different outcome if he were still there? Or does it go beyond one player?
JB: Sacha was definitely a huge part of the team. He definitely would have helped give us the playoff push and maybe we would be in a different situation.
When he left, there were a bunch of different guys that stepped up to the fill the void though.
TSG: One of the things we see is you do a lot of work just to get the ball. You could be getting a little better service, in our opinion. How big a challenge has that been for you?
JB: I don’t think it’s too much of an issue. I just try to do my thing and hope the guys around me do the best to get me the ball.
You don’t score goals on your own; when I’m scoring goals it means the team is doing well.
TSG: Now, through the end of the year…let’s say Chivas’s run of making the playoffs comes to an end. Is the season a failure then?
JB: Yeah, definitely it would be a huge disappointment for us. You have to look at the season like that.
TSG: Let’s backtrack a little bit here. As I understand you were the top scorer in the entire state of Utah your junior and senior year in high school.
But you didn’t play any Olympic development ball.
And you didn’t get any division one invites.
How the hell did that happen?
JB: I mean, I don’t know.
I always believed in myself…
TSG: Sorry to interrupt, but take us back to high school. What happened in high school. How, in your mind, was your talent not realized?
It’s got to be tough for a player of your ilk who is now performing quite well in the domestic league. It’s got be quite well preposterous that no one gave you a shot?
JB: Well, I definitely tried to reach out to schools. Coming from Salt Lake though, it doesn’t have the best reputation as a soccer hotbed. Colleges don’t come through looking to recruit so the exposure probably wasn’t the best for me.
But definitely yeah, when I look back it’s kind of hard to believe that I didn’t get a shot…not anywhere.
TSG: So Preki picks you up on a contract after an exhibition game at the Depot Center out of nowhere; what happened after you had that stunning moment?
JB: Initially it’s disbelief that it happens at all. It was a dream of mine since I was four years old to play soccer for a living.
Through even a few weeks of preseason and it was a shock.
But I was like, “Here’s my chance and if I make it, I make it.”
I tried to just prove myself and they ended up giving me a contract.
TSG: Did you ever think about what you would have done if it didn’t work out? What were you going to do?
JB: At the time I was going to finish up my bachelor’s degree at school and take the career path that most people take and get a job somewhere.
TSG: So you weren’t thinking of soccer beyond the Chivas invite?
JB: I mean at the time I had almost given up on the hopes of playing. I was almost done with college.
I started focusing on my education.
TSG: What we you planning to do?
JB: At the time it was finance. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.
TSG: <deadpan> So something not quite as exciting.
JB: Ha. Yeah definitely not. Now when I look back I can’t even picture myself having a 9 to 5 job after now having a dream job so to speak.
TSG: So what now? What is your talent level? Where do you think you could play or what are your expectations of yourself?
JB: Right now, I’d love to get a cap for the national team. That’s a huge goal for any American soccer player. It would be a huge honor if I was given that opportunity.
From there, it would be nice to get some looks from over in Europe.
TSG: On the U.S. Soccer team. You’ve been in a camp already. Actually, you and I met briefly at HDC last year when you participated in January camp; your first camp. What was it like to get out there with Bob Bradley’s squad and his intense practices?
JB: That was a huge learning experience for me. I went in there ready to learn.
Anytime you get a chance to play at a higher level, it’s going to increase your skill level as an individual.
I mean, it’s also good to get different perspective from different coaches. Bob Bradley definitely brings the best out of his players.
TSG: What was the most impressive or most surprising thing about participating in the camp for you?
JB: The thing was the high and consistent level of the camp.
Day in and day out guys were bringing it. Everyone goes 100% all the time.
TSG: Do you expect to get called in for the October friendlies?
JB: I’m not expecting anything. It’s something I’d like. It’s that huge honor.
I’m trying to do my thing here in MLS and hopefully the coaches are watching and will give me a chance to prove myself on the international level.
TSG: You live in Manhattan Beach, do you ever see Bob Bradley out at The Local Yolk or anywhere else in the neighborhood? Do you try to chat him up a bit? See if he needs another striker or anything?
JB: Ha. No.
Never seen him out in the neighborhood. I’ve seen him at HDC but never out and about.
TSG: Do you feel that Chivas play in the shadow of the Galaxy at Home Depot Center?
Yeah, in a sense, I think we do. Yeah, it’s their stadium and we’re known as “the other LA team,” but things are changing and people are becoming more aware of who we are.
TSG: Now this is something I recently learned, there seems to be an undercurrent of perhaps racial tension, or at least the perception of racial tension with Galaxy having a predominant white fanbase and Chivas having a Latino or at least multi-ethnic fanbase. Do you sense that at all?
JB: Well yeah, our fans are naturally a lot of Chivas Guadalaraja fans that have settled in the Los Angeles area.
But as for racial tension, I know the fanbases don’t like each other and things get heated, but I think it’s just normal.
TSG: So we always conclude where we ask some lighter questions about your teammates and club.
Who in the locker room you would want with you if you were in a bar fight?
JB: I’d probably go with Big Z, Zach Thornton.
TSG: Which teammate is respected the most?
JB: Hmm…um. I think the guys with experience. Ante Jazic. Zach Thornton again. Paul Nagamura.
The guys that have the background. It’s not just one person.
TSG: If you could pick any other player to play on Chivas not with “Henry” or “Landon” in their name, who would it be?
JB: I would go with Javier Morales.
He’s a very skillful player and he creates a lot for his team. He’s a huge reason why Real Salt Lake is good.
TSG: With Jonathan Bornstein’s relocation, will his family start selling tacos instead of sandwiches?
JB: Um, probably not. The the sandwiches are pretty good so they should stick with them.
TSG: Do you think that Chivas should have Sacha Kljestan Pencil Mustache Night?
JB: A “what?” night?
TSG: Well Heath Pearce is getting a lot of run out of his mustache, but Kljestan was really the original MLS mustache. Do you think respects should be paid because Kljestan blazed the trail? Whose is better?
JB: Yeah, I think it would be fun. I think it should be honored.
Sacha rocks a hard mustache but it’s different style. Heath’s thicker, so I’ll go with his.
TSG: What’s something you want to add about Coach Vasquez that people may not know and that will be buried so far in this interview most may never see it?
JB: Aw man…I’ve got all good things to say about Coach Martin. He does a great job relating to players on a personal level.
TSG: Alright, Justin. Thanks for your time. We’ll let you go. Good luck this weekend.
JB: Appreciate it, man.
TSG: Thanks Justin.