FROM ECNL PLAYER OF THE YEAR TO THE MLS: JOEY SKINNER’S RISE TO MLS DRAFT PICK
Joey Skinner’s soccer career has been on a meteoric rise in the past 18 months.
At the 2023 MLS SuperDraft in December, the former Charlotte Independence Academy defender was selected 11th overall by Nashville SC only 18 months removed from winning the first-ever U18/19 ECNL Boys National Championship and being named the ECNL Boys U18/19 Player of the Year that same season.
“Life can change so fast at any moment,” Skinner said. “I was playing in the ECNL a year and a half ago and now I’m going to be on an MLS team. So, if you just really believe in yourself, that you can do it, the sky’s the limit for anyone; you just have to work at it. It’s really incredible what can happen in such a short amount of time.”
“The ECNL helped me become a better player,” Skinner said. “My senior year is kind of when I took the next jump. I had a really great year playing in the ECNL and it really made me ready for college.”
During the week of their championship run, Charlotte advanced all the way to the semifinals as a seven seed, before knocking off FSA FC in the semifinals and winning the title in a hard fought 1-0 game over San Diego Surf.
“Playing that week when we were in the playoffs kind of gave a sense of what college soccer would end up looking like, because we were playing against other D1 prospects the whole time and I think it really got us prepared for what the next level was going to look like.”
Jeff Bilyk, Charlotte Independence Academy Director, and Skinner’s coach during the championship winning season, believes the work ethic Skinner showed during his time with the club helped create opportunities for himself as he continued to develop.
“Joey is the epitome of development, coming through our pathways, and what hard work does,” said Bilyk. “He is a perfect example of what we’re trying to talk about when we talk about the development process with all of our players.”
“We knew he was a good player, we knew he had a lot of potential, but there were moments where he just grew and kept pushing, working, and developing his game until his senior year when he played with the U19s and really became that absolute impact player,” Bilyk said.
After his time in the ECNL, the Charlotte, N.C., native joined his brother Matthew Skinner, a defender for the Spartans, as he started his collegiate career at UNC Greensboro.
UNCG’s coaching staff showed quick belief in Skinner and started recruiting him at an early age, something that stuck with him when he was deciding where he wanted to continue his playing career.
“Joey is a leader,” Bilyk said. “As he continued to develop he was gaining a lot of attention, but he wanted to honor his commitment and play for the team that he committed to going to, and I thought that said a lot about the type of person he is and the character that he has.”
“They just believed in me. I got recruited there when I was just 16-years-old,” Skinner said. “Them just believing in me just gave me confidence. I always knew I had the talent and the work ethic. It was just having that confidence in myself that I could possibly be this player one day and them believing in me and giving me the opportunity when I got there helped me.”
During his freshman year, Skinner started 17 games for the Spartans, scoring four goals, recording seven assists, and helped anchor a defense that recorded 10 shutouts on the year.
After helping UNCG win the Southern Conference his rookie season, Skinner made the decision to transfer to Clemson.
This past year at Clemson, Skinner appeared in every game for the Tigers and scored two goals, both of which were game winners. Skinner helped Clemson make it all the way to the ACC Championship Game, where they fell to eventual National Champions Syracuse, and helped the Tigers make it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where they were defeated by UCLA.
Following the season, Skinner was given the opportunity to be one of 11 players who could sign a Generation Adidas contract. Generation Adidas players are underclassmen who have garnered interest from multiple MLS teams prior to the MLS Draft. Once a player signs a Generation Adidas contract they become a professional, making themselves eligible for the MLS SuperDraft and forgo their remaining college eligibility.
“When I got to Clemson I always was open to the possibility of leaving early before I graduated, but I didn’t think it was going to be this quick,” Skinner said. “The fact that I’ve gotten this opportunity is a blessing and I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Before the draft, Skinner spoke with a few teams, but said he still wasn’t sure who was going to take him on draft night and was extremely happy when he got the call from Nashville.
“I had an idea of what teams were kind of interested, but I was still kind of skeptical about who was going to choose me until it actually happened,” Skinner said. “I knew Nashville was a target because I’ve talked to them before, so I knew that might be a place where I could end up, and I’m really happy that I’m going there.”
As he enters into his first season with Nashville, Skinner has high expectations for himself as the start to the season quickly approaches.
“My goal is to stay with the first team,” Skinner said. “I know it’s going to be very hard because I’ve talked to ex-pros and they’ve told me how hard it’s going to be and how hard you have to work to stay at the top. So, my goal is just to stay with the first team and hopefully make my MLS debut my first year.”
While Skinner continues to push himself and set lofty personal goals that he hopes to achieve this season, he did note how the success of his team is what remains the most important thing to him.
“I care about how I play and how I perform, but it’s more important how the team performs and how I’m helping the team reach the goals they want to reach.”
While Skinner’s rise from playing in the ECNL just two summers ago to now finding himself on the cusp of making his MLS debut has happened quickly, the 19-year-old credits the belief he always maintained in himself for helping him get to this point and reminds others to always do the same.
“Always believe in yourself,” Skinner said. “There was a point in my life, I was like 15-years-old, and I was a good player, but I wasn’t a great player, and there’s times where you’re going to get discouraged and think you’re not good enough to do this, but I feel like if you really believe in yourself and you work at your craft that you can really achieve anything you want to achieve.”