It took defender Chase Gasper a little while to get going during his rookie season, but he once he took off, he didn’t look back. Bothered by a nagging hamstring injury and stuck behind former captain Francisco Calvo on the depth chart, the left back out of Maryland started in a pair of Open Cup wins but didn’t get his first MLS start until Minnesota faced off against expansion club FC Cincinnati at the end of June. The Loons put the screws to Cincy in that one, dropping the visiting squad 7-1. Stretching back to those Open Cup victories, the run the Cincy win sparked meant that Gasper didn’t experience a loss through his first 11 competitions across MLS and the Open Cup.
Throughout the season, Gasper displayed tenacity and energy on the pitch, getting up in the attack while displaying some surprisingly nimble footwork and strong crossing ability from the left wing. If he sometimes failed to drop quickly enough or overcommitted to tackling — to the tune of six yellow cards and one red — they were the kind of mistakes you’d prefer to have. It is, after all, easier to rein a feisty player in than inject a listless one with passion.
With the U.S. Men’s National Team under Head Coach Gregg Berhalter looking to harness youth for the future, it came as little surprise to those who followed his rookie season when the then-23-year-old Gasper got a call up to a training camp.
“It started last November,” said Gasper. “I went to a camp in Bradenton, Florida, met all the coaches, Coach Gregg Berhalter, all of his staff and all the players on the team. It was definitely a learning experience — a lot of intensity, great players, great training sessions. Then I went to the January camp — also in Bradenton — and it concluded in Los Angeles. A month-long camp and it was definitely challenging but learned a lot. I got a lot more used to their style of play. Coach Berhalter has a very specific way of playing and it was a lot of fun to learn that and compete every day with some of the top guys in the country and make new friends with other top players. It was truly a blessing and a dream come true. And to get subbed into the game against Costa Rica and earn my first cap — I can't thank everybody enough here at Minnesota, all the coaches, all my teammates for helping me prepare for that moment.”
During a recent Twitter AMA, a user asked Gasper — whose number is 77 — if he got subbed on in the 77th minute on purpose. Turns out he hadn’t even noticed the coincidence until that moment, clearly to focused on the matter at hand to put much stock in numerology. But he did make a connection with his roommate, LA Galaxy right back Julian Araujo, and started early on his fitness heading into Minnesota United’s preseason training.
“The camps are very intense. A lot of running, a lot of lifting,” he said. “We started three weeks before everyone started preseason, so I just got a bit of a headstart and I'm feeling fit, feeling strong. But I was blown away when I joined Minnesota United. Everybody's so much further ahead than they were last year. The level is already so high and guys are very fit coming out of offseason, which means they put in the work. It's great to rejoin the guys and see them again.”
It was clear last season that Gasper in particular relished the camaraderie of the team, always game for any kind of extracurricular activity out on the training pitch and ready with a smile for any fan. Already, he has a sense that Minnesota United have a special group this year.
“Even the new guys, you feel like they've been here for years,” he said. “Everybody's accepting everybody. A lotta respect within the crew, there are no cliques. The chemistry is really high right off the bat and I think that's going to translate to the field.”
He's always taken playing for Minnesota United seriously, even when the work is fun. He’s dedicated, in a way, to dedication itself, and it’s one of his best qualities. It’s clear he considers it an immense honor to have earned his first cap for the U.S. and it’s no surprise. Take note next time you’re at Allianz Field when the national anthem plays — Gasper always sings along to every word.