From goalkeeper to midfielder, Emil Larsen is ready for a change once again

Emil Larsen RSLvCLB

For many professional players, it can be difficult to pinpoint the moment they found their position. “I was only three-years-old when I started playing football and I was a goalkeeper,” Emil Larsen explains. “I don’t remember it myself, but my family told me.”

Stood between the posts, wearing gloves far too big for his hands, the situation didn’t feel right. “I was just so small and I had the big gloves, just standing there,” Larsen says laughing. “I just wanted to play, so I took the ball for a dribble.”

To his family, it quickly became apparent that Emil was not a goalkeeper, and in fact his talent lay with the ball at his feet. As the Dane grew up, he idolised world renowned ball carriers. “My favourite Danish player of course was Michael Laudrup, he was the best one we had,” Larsen explains. “I always idolised Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane. I watch some clips of them now on YouTube, and games from them. They are some of the best players in the world.”

Some 21 years on from that day, Larsen is still dribbling with the same excitement and exuberance he displayed as a child. Now doing so as a professional player, it is a dream that Larsen held from an early age. “It was always my big dream to play football professionally,” Larsen says. “I became a professional at 18-years-old, but it was always my dream.”

With soccer always on his mind, Larsen admits he would tell teachers he was sick, in order to go home and play more. It’s a confession that elicits a guilty laugh from the shy midfielder, a reflection on a simpler time in his life. “I had a dad that played football, so you could say I am from a football family,” Larsen says.

His father Thomas - a former professional in Denmark - was always a supportive parent. Making it to almost every game his son played in, including away matches with the Danish National Team, his task has become somewhat harder now his son is 4,100 miles away in Columbus, Ohio. “For me the most important thing is to find the right club,” Larsen replies, when asked why he chose Crew SC. “For me, Columbus is the right club, right now.”

As a teenager, Lyngby BK was the right club for Larsen’s talents. Growing up through the club, as man and boy, staff remember fondly how Larsen would ride up to the club house on his bike, a ball under his arm. By 2009, he was a member of the first team. "I came up as an inexperienced youth player and had to prove something,” Larsen said at the time. “I have worked hard to win a place. It's always difficult when you come up as the youngest man to play with the big boys.”

Blessed with great potential, Lyngby could only stave off interest from bigger clubs for so long. “Lyngby Boldklub say goodbye to a true Lyngby-boy,” read a statement on the club’s official website in 2012, confirming his move to OB Odense in the Danish Superliga.

A step up for Larsen, it was seen as the beginning of a bright career. He would spend four years in Odense, not all of them happy. “I would say the first two, two-and-a-half-years were very good for me personally,” Larsen explains. “But we had some problems at the club. I had three coaches in three and a half years. That was not the best club to perform in. If you see the results the last four years, they were not so good.”

A frustrating time for all connected with the club, the struggles would serve as a period of growth for Larsen. Linked heavily with a move to Danish giants Brondby, the deal would eventually break down. “It was a difficult time,” Larsen says, reflecting. “I was not happy at Odense, and I wanted to move because we were not playing so well. It was a hard time for me, you know there are always some fans and supporters that hate a player when he wants to move. When the deal was not done and I came back, they hated me. I’m a stronger person now because of it, both inside the field, and outside the field.”

Moving into 2016, Larsen was ready for a fresh start. Taking in December’s MLS Cup, he was struck by how well his future employers played. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose,” he says. A meeting with head coach Gregg Berhalter only furthered his eagerness to join the club. “Coach Gregg wants to play in quite a similar style from the style I came from in Denmark,” Larsen explains. “Columbus play very good football, and I think that this football is how I want to play. That was the most important thing for me.”

Slowly adjusting to life in Ohio, Larsen has been provided with the perfect tour guide. “Yeah, I’ve met him too.” Larsen enthuses when asked if he has met former defender Frankie Hejduk. “He’s such a good guy. Frankie helped me with some stuff when I moved from Denmark to here, and he’s a cool guy.”

Cast alongside the exuberance of Hejduk is the serenity of teammate Steve Clark. “He’s such a good guy too, he’s very nice,” Larsen says of Clark. “We talked about his story, and how he was in Norway. I think all the guys from the team are very nice, and have tried to help me. I just have to learn the city, it’s a nice city, but far away [from home].”

Still to make his competitive debut for Crew SC, that achievement may come this weekend at home to the Philadelphia Union. A chance for home fans to see the talented technician run with the ball, it is a moment that arrives after two decades of practice, from boy to man, goalkeeper to midfielder.

Kristan Heneage is a soccer writer, producer and broadcaster who covers Major League Soccer and the Barclays Premier League for Yahoo! Sports. To read the extended interview with Larsen, visit Yahoo! Sports here.

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