WHEN American Grant Robson was about to graduate from university before 2011 he came precariously close to giving up playing soccer.
"I was a little bit older than most of the guys in the trials so I didn't make it," says the Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United soccer player who went to Sonoma State (Napa Valley) and Cal State (Monterey Bay) universities in the San Francisco area.
Fortunately, a stint with semi-professional team DV8 there offered the business graduate a lifeline to playing abroad so he grabbed it with both hands.
Robson had a choice - Germany or New Zealand - he took the latter.
"New Zealand was the better choice and environment to come to because they speak English in the country and I have family and friends in Auckland," says the 27-year-old before the Chris Greatholder-coached Bay United kick off at 2pm tomorrow away at Dave Farrington Park against Team Wellington.
The ASB Premiership match will be a good time for the Bay franchise team to exorcise their demons, considering it's the only side they have lost to this summer (2-1 on November 30 in Napier) and a game Greatholder is adamant they should have won.
Their other defeat has been on paper, against newcomers Wanderers Soccer Club on January 12, even though they won 3-1 away on the field.
For Robson, it'll be further frustration after he injured himself at training this week and is hobbling on crutches.
The agony continues on a weekend when Greatholder has a rash of injuries in the playing squad.
Here are those on the 50-50 bracket - defender Danny Wilson, Robson (shin black and blue), Nathanael Hailemariam (ankle).
"We're a bit depleted so they could all come good when we run out," says the coach who has had to release a squad 48 hours before the kick-off and has 11 players in mind.
Harry Edge, whose stint from the bench cost Bay United two points because his paperwork wasn't completed, is back in the equation after a game with the youth side last round.
For someone who almost threw away a career in the beautiful game, Robson has accumulated about 90 minutes off the bench this summer after playing for relegated YoungHeart Manawatu in the premiership last season.
Consequently the versatile midfielder made the most of his starting berth in the friendly against Wellington Phoenix A at the Bluewater Stadium, Park Island, last month when Greatholder gave fringe players the opportunity to display their prowess.
"I think I have the quality to play a role in the team.
"I should and could get more time on the field," says Robson, revealing he was definitely one of the boys knocking on Greatholder's door, wondering what's happening in the mix.
He accepts the role of substitute.
Primarily a lot of the blokes are doing well. The engine room is alive and kicking with fellow American Sean Morris, of Seattle, pitching a tent with Tom Biss, Dave Mulligan and Jamie Mason.
"The three are quality so when there's an injury I'll have to break into that," says the man whose prognosis after consulting a physiotherapist isn't looking good for tomorrow.
"I was on crutches last night. Sure, it would have been a good opportunity to shine but it didn't work out that way."
Yes but Robson comprehends that because the Bay franchise didn't court him.
On arriving to Auckland 18 months ago, he had missed out on selection with Waitakere United so YoungHeart beckoned.
From there he plied his trade for Wellington United last winter before approaching Bay United for the summer league.
"I sort of made my own way here," he says, mindful he'll have to play week in, week out to prove his worthiness in a team that are looking like premiership contenders with O-League aspirations.
A player who favours 50/40 on his right, he can deliver with as much zest on his left.
If anything, Robson welcomes the competitive spirit in the squad where everyone wants to play and training tends to hit match-level intensity.
"It's frustrating but I'm not upset as I understand it's a great environment.
"It's where I want to be, training as a team.
"I'm a winner so I want to have a shot at winning the league with this team."
Frankly, the Bay franchise has never experienced this sort of zeal, after Greatholder helped create history in making its maiden premiership play-offs last summer with Bill Robertson at the helm.
His father, Lee Robson, introduced him to soccer when he was 5 but the San Jose-born youngster had myriad sports to savour.
"I chose soccer and baseball which I was decent at."
But with the seasons overlapping, Robson gravitated towards soccer although he was a lead hitter, albeit not a very strong one, who could get teammates to bases.
His mother, Cotty Robson, who works in the insurance industry, and father, who is president of a laser company he has shares in, have always supported him.
Most of the family friends in Auckland are his business associates.
Having Morris in the squad is a fillip.
"We get each other's jokes, which can be lost on everyone else," he says with a laugh.
"It definitely helps to have another American around to back you when you need him."
Choosing soccer over baseball in a bid to make the Major Soccer League (MSL) was a no-brainer for Robson although the latter code is more cut-throat in the US.
"I just love the athleticism that soccer brings," he says, enjoying the physicality, passing, team cohesiveness and tactics the code demands.
"It's a demanding game that requires a mental aptitude to succeed."
By next week, Robson has to decide whether he'll play for Bluewater Napier City Rovers or Petone (Wellington) in the Central League over winter.
"The Rovers are helping me out so it's looking good," he says, making no secrets of the need to find employment wherever he plays.
The part-time bartender at County Hotel in Napier believes he's fitting in well in New Zealand.
"For me, coming in I adapted very quickly to the culture and environment," Robson says.