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Beyond the Academical Village: Q&A with Hunter Freeman

Former UVa Star Hunter FreemanWhile at Virginia from 2002 – 2004, defender Hunter Freeman was named to the 2004 All-ACC First Team and the 2004 NSCAA/adidas All-American Third Team squads. His accolades include being named to the Team of the Week on a number of occasions by Soccer America, College Soccer News, among others. He led the team in 2004 with 27 points, and currently holds the school record for single-season assists (21). We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Hunter.

Following his 2004 season, he was selected seventh overall in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft by the Colorado Rapids, where he played for two years. In 2007, he was traded to New York Red Bull, where he scored his first MLS goal in a 1-0 victory over FC Dallas. Finally, despite having already agreed to the Norwegian club I.K. Start, where he currently plays, Toronto FC traded to acquire him for just a few months.

Hunter scored his first goal for Start on July 11, 2009, from an impressive 40 meters away, over approximately 15 players and a keeper who was content to just watch the ball sail by. The video is after the interview.

In early October, Hunter suffered a knee injury that has taken him out of the game since, while he recovers.

Streaking the Lawn: First of all, sorry about your knee injury. How frustrating has it been for you to be on the sideline rather than on the field?

Hunter Freeman: It is always tough to have to watch from the sidelines.  I would much rather be on the field helping my team.  When you are sitting the stands watching the game there is nothing you can do.

STL: Is there any update as to when you might be able to do full practices again?

HF: I have been out for almost 3 weeks now.  This past week I began to do some stuff with the ball and some running.  The hope is that next week I will be back and training fully with the team.  We just have 2 games left in the season, with our last one being at home.  We can finish as high as 4th place (which would be the highest the team has finished in some years).  So it would be great to make it back onto the pitch and finish the season on a high note.

STL: In your final season at UVA, you were the team’s leader in points, and you continue to hold the school’s record in single-season assists. You were All-ACC and All-American. Looking back, you had a pretty solid career at Virginia. Can you talk about that?

HF: I thoroughly enjoyed my time at UVA.  I feel that my last year at UVA was a culmination of a lot of things that all came together at once for me.  When I enrolled at UVA I was only 17, so I was young and naive.  I was fortunate enough to start from day one as a freshman and in turn I learned a lot quite quickly.  By my third year I had grown stronger and smarter as a player.  Not to mention we had a good team that year. It was disappointing for us not to make it to the Final Four, and especially disappointing to lose at home to Duke in the Elite Eight.  It was a fantastic year for the team & me individually.   But without question if it were not for the performance of the team and the players around me I would have not had the numbers that I did.

Hunter FreemanSTL: You spent four years in the MLS before going overseas to play for Start. How would you compare your experiences so far? Was the transition difficult?

HF: I enjoyed my time playing in MLS.  It was a dream come true, to finally be a professional.  That was a lifelong dream that came to fruition.  I was playing in New York and in the last year of my contract I had a decision to make.  Did I want to re-sign w/ MLS or did I want to try something overseas.  I ended up getting an offer from my current club, IK Start, and was ultimately too good to turn down.  Not to mention, I had always wanted to play in Europe.

The experience has been great.  Not only getting the chance to play over here and experience the passion that they have for soccer here, but living in a foreign country is a whole different experience in itself.  It opens your eyes to a lot of things, and definitely makes you thankful for a lot of the things you take for granted back home in the states.  The transition was not too difficult for me.  I have traveled all over the world playing soccer, so it was not totally "foreign" to me.

Not to mention, I have not lived at home (Texas) since I was 15 years old.  But again, living here day to day and being immersed in the culture is a lot different than simply visiting a place for 2 weeks or even a month.  Thankfully, almost all Norwegians speak English!  That has definitely made it easier as well.  I would say I can understand about 75% of Norwegian, but can only speak about 25%!  It is a very difficult language to speak, as they have 3 additional vowels on top of the ones we have in English.

STL: Since graduating UVA, have you kept in touch with any of your old teammates? If so who, and how are they doing?

HF: Ya, I keep in touch with a lot of my teammates.  Joey Vide and I played together in New York for a year.  I have not spoken to him in a while, but he is someone that we should all keep in our thoughts right now as he is currently battling stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  He has experienced both good and bad news along the way, but he is still fighting.  To make matters worse, his insurance company has since dropped him.  If anyone would like to make a donation to help with the cost of his medical treatments, they can do so by visiting the following website [Eds. note: We had previously sat down with The Friends to catch up on Joey's recovery and send some questions Joey's way. Here was the article back in June of this year.]

STL: The big story coming out of Charlottesville last year was, of course, the team’s national championship. How did you react when you heard about that?

HF: That was terrific news, not only for the men’s soccer program but for the school in general.  I unfortunately never even made it to a Final Four, so that is a tremendous achievement to not only get there but to win it all.  I was happy for George, and the rest of the staff as I know most of the guys who are there.  So without a doubt I was proud for the team & the school.

STL: The team is currently No. 3 in the country, with their only losses coming to No. 2 North Carolina and then No. 12 Wake Forest. Have you been following the team at all this year?

HF: I try to follow a little bit every year.  I am always going to the UVA website now and then to check up on how they are doing.

Hunter Freeman (Sorry, ladies)STL: If so, what do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the team?

HF: I can’t really say what their strengths and weaknesses are, as I have not seen them play at all.  All I really know is that they lost some key players from last years team, and I believe they are a bit young especially in the midfield.  Having said that, there are always talented players coming in and waiting in the wings to get their chance so I am sure some of those guys have stepped up and contributed to the team.

STL: National Championship repeat. Possible? Probable? Unlikely?

HF: It is always possible, but it will definitely be difficult.  UVA has always had a target on their back, and now they are the current champions that target will be even bigger.  It is all about making the tournament.  Once you make the tournament it’s a whole new season and anything can happen.

STL: What is your favorite memory of UVA, either on or off the field?

HF: My best moment on the field would probably have to be winning the ACC championship 2 years in a row.  Although, the first year we won it was probably the best just because we had an extremely young team, and basically had to win the ACC championship to get into the tournament.  So that one sticks out in my mind the most probably.  Off the field, there are probably too many to single out just one.  Anytime we were able to make a football game was always fun, the Corner, Gus Burgers, being joined to select a secret society, the Lawn...all of those pop into my head right away.

STL: What has been your most memorable professional experience so far?

HF: That’s a tough one.  I would probably have to say either when I played for New York and we played vs. LA (Beckham's first game in NY) in front of 75,000 people at the Meadowlands and we won 5-4 or last year with my club IK Start when we played away to Rosenborg in the 2nd to last match of the year.  Rosenborg had not lost a game all year long and we beat them at their place 3-2.  That was a great feeling, and probably one of the best locker room moments I can remember for sure.

STL: When you’re not playing soccer, what other sports do you play?

HF: I enjoy playing golf & when I am back in Texas I enjoy going hunting.

We thank Hunter for taking the time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us, and we wish him the speediest of recoveries before the end of the season!

Just because you can't watch Hunter live in action doesn't mean you can relive the glory! Here's a short video clip of Hunter's first goal with IK Start in 2009: