Josh Lambo: Switching from MLS to the NFL

Many young children grow up with dreams of becoming a professional sports person. These dreams can even change, as they did for me, between wanting to play professional football, golf, cricket or anything else for that matter. The real key to fulfilling a dream is dedication and dedication to playing just one sport is something that I never had. When the dream of being a sporting hero eventually fades we follow a different career path. That is unless you are Josh Lambo who, after failing as a professional footballer for FC Dallas, has ended up in the NFL. I know what you're thinking, it's a weird world that we live in right?


The sports of soccer and American football could not really be any more different but there is one skill that is transferable and that is kicking. Lambo, in his soccer days, was a goalkeeper and being able to kick the ball a long way, with good accuracy and a short run up is one of the traits you would expect to find. Obviously the key is stopping the ball from going into the net but a good goal kick can be the difference between your team being with or without possession. It really is astounding how many professional goalkeepers struggle to aim a kick, sometimes kicking the ball out of play for a throw in, under no pressure and therefore instantly putting their team on the back foot again. Joe Hart does this on a regular basis for England whilst aiming for a wide man.

 

The talent of Lambo was spotted at a young age and he signed a Generation Adidas contract whilst still in high school which would make him eligible for the MLS Superdraft once ready. In 2007 he represented the United States U17's at the FIFA U17 World Cup, where keeping a clean sheet against a strong Belgium side was the highlight of his tournament. In 2008 he was then the 8th over all pick in the MLS Superdraft as FC Dallas decided to take a punt on the highly rated goalkeeper. He would spend time on loan with FC Tampa Bay where he would make his professional debut but at the end of the 2011 MLS season, FC Dallas opted against retaining his services.

 

This signalled the end of what had been a goalkeeping career that had offered so much promise in the early years. Lambo turned down offers from the NASL (the second tier of US soccer) and decided, at 21 years of age, that a career as a professional goalkeeper just wasn't going to happen. For most people this would have been the end of any sporting dreams but Lambo had other ideas. He hadn't turned down NASL contracts for no reason.

 

He decided to enroll at Texas A&M University and join the American football team. He practiced hard and he would need to. In order to master the different technique he enlisted help from a former New Orleans Saints kicker and it seemed to work. Lambo had a successful college career earning a scholarship by the time he reached his third year in Texas, a testament to his talent and excellent record for his college team that included game winning kicks and a 59/59 record for extra points in the 2014 season.

The 2015 NFL draft came and went and Lambo had not been picked up. Then, in May 2015, he was signed as a free agent by the San Diego Chargers. Once a professional soccer player, he was now a professional American football player, the transformation had been completed. Lambo wasn't satisfied with just being a back up rookie, there to make up the numbers and keep the top guy, Nick Novak, on his toes, he wanted the starting position. He wanted to be the go-to guy for the Chargers and in pre-season of the 2015/16 season, he became that man.

 

Over the last two seasons in the NFL, Lambo has been an ever present in the Chargers lineup and has converted 52 of his 64 field goal attempts. To put that into perspective, Lambo had a field goal success rate of 81.3% in the 2016 regular season, putting San Diego 22nd out of 32 franchises in terms of field goal success rate. That may not sound too impressive but for a team that only managed to win five matches this season, they could do a lot worse and we should also remember that Lambo is still relatively new to the sport and to kicking an oval shaped ball. Improving his conversion rate by just 3% would see him ranked in the top half of the NFL.


Lambo can certainly go on to have a successful career in the NFL and when his stats are compared to the other kickers in the league, you certainly wouldn't know that he only started out in his 20's. Aside from a small amount of touch football, Lambo's parents would not allow him to play the sport, but that didn't matter as he was a hugely talented goalkeeper representing his country at youth level. Playing American football would not be such a wise idea when you are aiming to become a professional soccer player. That is what makes his story so unique. To have the talent to win a professional contract in one sport and then transition to a different sport that you have never really played before and become a respected professional there too is inspiring and highly admirable.

 

When asked, Lambo knows that he is lucky to have a second attempt at a professional sporting career. He has spoken about his determination to succeed and how focussed he is on doing the right things and more importantly, doing them right on a regular basis. So much of a kicker's longevity comes down to their ability to perform in the high pressure moments and coaches can quickly lose patience with those who continue to let them down. After all, there are many more kickers graduating college each year that are desperate to be drafted by an NFL team and displace the incumbent. If he can increase his field goal percentage closer to the 85% mark next season then San Diego will be confident that they have a guy for the long term. Being a kicker is about fine margins and Lambo knows that.

 

Despite now wearing all the pads and the lightening bolt of the San Diego Chargers as oppose to the red and white of FC Dallas, Lambo still holds a love for the sport he calls soccer. He has expressed during interviews that soccer is still very much a passion of his and holds a special place in his heart but that just shows the mental strength that he had to transition to something new. Soccer was his dream, he had grown up playing the sport and probably had his whole future mapped out but when all hope was gone, the sleeves were rolled up, he found something new and he excelled. Bouncing back stronger than ever is what makes a true sporting great and the coming years will tell just just how good Josh Lambo really is.

 

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