A footballer’s passion for the game can be measured in many ways. How long they stay at one club, the loyalty they show during the tough times, or how many times they kiss the badge on their current shirt. But occasionally they do whatever it takes to stay in the game they love, no matter what life throws at them. Vito Higgins fits into this category.
Born in Kailua, Hawai’i, Vito attended Academy of the Pacific but played football for Pac-Five, representing several Hawai’i high schools. He helped lead the team to second place in ILH Boys Soccer League with a 10-1-3 record, conceding only five goals during his senior season. But it was at college where he truly excelled.
Vito made 72 appearances during his career at Gonzaga University, making 305 saves, the second highest in the Bulldogs’ history. He played every minute of every game in his last two seasons, helping them to their second ever NCAA Tournament, in 2007. It was a season in which he allowed only 0.71 goals against per game, ranking second in all-time records for a single season. The Bulldogs lost 1-0 to SMU in the tournament but Vito made 14 saves, only conceding from a late penalty.
Commenting on Vito’s college career, former LA Galaxy Director of Soccer Paul Bravo later said “Vito had an outstanding career at Gonzaga and was someone whose talents we were well aware of.”
Vito’s contract with the Galaxy didn’t fall on his lap. He had to earn it. In February, 2008, Vito attended the Galaxy’s Open Tryout, competing against 400 other participants. “He did very well during the four days that he was here,” Paul Bravo said. “He’s earned the right to come in and train with us.” At the end of the tryouts it was extended into a trial with the first team. It was at this time that the club were preparing to compete in the Pan Pacific Championship, in which he failed to earn a spot on the squad.
When I asked Vito about the signing process he told me, “Over the next few weeks LA Galaxy stayed in contact and one of their draft ‘keepers injured himself. At that point I received a phone call from Paul Bravo and was told they wanted me to move down to LA. So I did. Shortly after my arrival I was offered a Developmental Contract, which I obviously signed.”
Under the guidance of Goalkeeper Coach, Ian Feuer, Vito began training. There were many stars at the club during the 2008 season, Beckham being one of them. “The first time I ever met David Beckham it was in an elevator at the Home Depot Center,” Vito said. “He introduced himself, and of course I was starstruck, but I introduced myself like I would with anyone. Which was bizarre because I had known who he was for several years now, and here I am, just a kid from Hawaii introducing myself like any normal introduction. Very surreal.”
Vito was included in the LA Galaxy Reserve squad on the 4th May, 2008, against Real Salt Lake Reserves in Park City. He was subbed on early in the second half in place of Peter Vagenas. “I came in as a sub and played as the 9,” said Vito when I asked about his first game. “We were hurting for numbers, so I went on and did my best. If I remember correctly I might have even had a few shots on goal. A little bizarre my first game playing professional was as a field player and not in goal.” Also in the team that day was Bryan Jordan, who played for the Galaxy between 2008 and 2012. They had actually played against each other at college when Bryan was at Oregon State. When I asked Bryan about his memories of Vito he said, “He was a solid player with great reactions, and was a real nice, cool dude.”
When asking him about his experiences at the Galaxy he shared a story about David Beckham, which I remember hearing, but never from a player who was present, “Someone had superglued David’s slippers to the floor of the locker room, and when he went to put them on, they didn’t move. He didn’t think it was very funny, but we all did, as we watched him rip them apart. He then quickly grabbed a pair of runners, so it’s not like he had to walk barefoot for very long. It was pretty funny.”
Vito featured in more reserve games, working his way up to second string ‘keeper. He appeared on the bench in several first team matches, when disaster struck. “I broke my 5th metatarsal in my left foot, training,” Vito recalled. “I had rolled my ankle, felt a pop and didn’t think much of it. The next day I woke up and couldn’t even walk on it. It was terrible. Worst feeling ever. It was one of the most unsettling moments of my life. I still think about it to this day.”
It happened during one of the worst periods in the Galaxy’s history. Alexi Lalas and Ruud Gullit were running the club, putting more emphasis on the star players rather than the overall operations. Not the ideal situation for an injured player to find himself in. A situation that led to Vito deciding to move on.
“During the last couple of months of my time in LA I was becoming more and more unhappy,” Vito said, “I had stayed in touch with my college coach, Einar Thorarinsson, and at one point he informed me that Gonzaga was opening up a second assistant coach position. He obviously encouraged me to stay with LA Galaxy, but when the injury happened, mixed with my unhappiness, I thought it was a good time to leave LA, regroup, heal up from the injury, and prepare for my next step.”
Vito left the Galaxy and began his coaching career, rejoining Gonzaga as Assistant Coach, a position which he has held for nearly ten years. Alongside his Bulldogs career he’s also spent time at Region IV of US Youth Soccer, Spokane Soccer Club Shadow and is currently Goalkeeper Director and Under 17 Head Coach at Sting Timbers.
During my time interviewing him, it became clear that Vito is a family man, talking about his daughter, Kamiya, and his wife, Katie. Many would cave under the disappointment of finishing their playing careers so prematurely, but he seems like a man who is very content with how his life has come together. Something which I couldn’t help but admire.
“Soccer has been good to me. I’ve had a lot of opportunities due to the fact that I played the game, am actively coaching the game, and through all of it the relationships that have come from it are invaluable. I also enjoy giving back to a community that once gave me opportunities, challenges and rewards. Soccer has been to good to me, I don’t think I can turn my back on it.” Vito Higgins.