Life got in the way of Ian Joy's perfect plan.
Real Salt Lake brought in the outspoken defender to shore up its left back position, and Joy was anxious to make a great first impression. It never worked out that way. His lofty aspirations were derailed by off-the-field family issues, and a month into the 2008 season he was being labeled a bust on the field while everything else around him unraveled.
Not only was he in the midst of losing his wife and daughter, who eventually returned to Germany in late May, but his soccer skills were letting him down also.
"Obviously when you come from Europe you have a point to prove, but I wasn't 100 percent focused on the game at that time. I was trying a little too hard and put myself in dangerous positions sometimes, and obviously yellow cards and red cards don't help," said Joy. "I think that happens when you're trying too hard to impress the fans and the club, and I wanted to be successful from the first minute and lost my concentration a lot."
Despite an unbelievably turbulent season for Joy, he seems to have gotten things straightened out. In fact, after being benched for more than a month this summer, Joy will be making his third straight start tonight (6:30, KSL) as RSL begins its toughest stretch of the season at the Chicago Fire.
Real Salt Lake has earned two straight shutouts since Joy's return to the lineup and he's proving what he can do with his head on straight. Initially it was anything but.
Joy and his wife were already in the process of splitting up before he left Germany to join Real Salt Lake in January. Both parents wanted to remain close to their 3-year-old daughter, so Joy and his wife both agreed to move to Utah to see how things would work out.
Off the field things weren't going well, and it was equally as bad on the field.
Joy seemed out of his league in MLS and was benched in favor of rookie Tony Beltran five games into the season. He was afforded another opportunity three games later but that backfired when he was sent off in the first half against FC Dallas on May 24 following his second yellow card.
That's when Joy was given a much-needed break.
With his marriage over, his wife and daughter gone and his confidence officially a wreck, RSL's coaching staff eased off. Joy still trained with the team, but being benched for six straight games afforded him the time to recharge mentally and physically.
"I think the break allowed me to get settled here, to be relaxed, to be enjoying my football," said Joy, who's in his first year in MLS after spending his entire professional career in Europe. "Obviously it's been tough on me, but the break's given me some time to myself to look at my play and look at my personal life and change some things."
RSL coach Jason Kreis doesn't appear to have lost faith in Joy despite his early season struggles.
"For me those mistakes were all about because he was overeager, he was eager to prove to everybody that he belonged here, and not only that he belonged here but that he could be a very, very good player in the league," said Kreis.
Kreis said it was important for Joy to step back and analyze his game and where he was making the mistakes.
At the beginning of his six-match hiatus, initially Joy wasn't even sure if he wanted to be here anymore. With his ex-wife and child a continent away, he questioned whether remaining in the U.S. was even worth it.
Those doubts have since subsided. It helps too that he's met a "nice girl here in Utah."
"Things are going well, and it's taking my mind away from things back home a little bit. I really don't see any reason to leave here," said Joy. "Obviously I could earn a lot more money if I was playing in Europe, and I'd be closer to my daughter; however, I'm having so much fun right now. I'm very happy off the field and on the field. I see no reason to go back in the near future or the long future. My plans here are really to be successful here and stay with this franchise for as long as possible."With seven of RSL's next 10 matches on the road, if Joy continues to play well and helps keep the club in first place, he might still evolve into a Real Salt Lake fan favorite he was hoping for all along.