Ed Rumley Special to the USA TODAY Network
PATERSON — Derrick Etienne Jr. grew up playing soccer at Paterson’s Buckley Park, the start of a career that landed him in the Major League Soccer championship game last month.
Etienne scored a goal in that contest, which his team, the Columbus Crew, won 3-0 against the Seattle Sounders. In recognition of that achievement, Mayor Andre Sayegh gave Etienne a ceremonial key to the city on Wednesday.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be given the key to the city,” Etienne said during the ceremony at City Hall. “I want to thank my parents. I am almost ready to cry.”
Etienne acknowledged that soccer sometimes gets overlooked in Paterson.
“I want to see not only football and basketball be a big part of the city, but also soccer,” he said.
Etienne was born in Richmond, Virginia, where his father played professional soccer. The family moved to Paterson when he was 5 years old, and he attended the city’s Alexander Hamilton Academy and spent his freshman year of high school at the Passaic County Technical Institute. After that, he said he was homeschooled so he could play club soccer.
“I remember the first time I played with a soccer ball,” Etienne recounted. “I was about 2 years old. Before that, when I was a baby in a crib, my father told me that he would take a small ball and move my leg back and forth to kick it.”
The soccer star said his parents, Derrick and Shamone Etiennne, have made a tremendous impact on his life.
“I saw my dad play professionally as a little boy,” he said. “Although my mom is not athletic, both she and my dad have always been there and provided for me. They gave me rides all the time to my games while I was growing up. My dad also coached me. He was the motivator and my mom was the comforter.”
Etienne’s father is the pastor of The Latter Glory Church in Paterson.
“I never really had time to get into trouble,” Etienne said of his teenage years. “It was always get up, go to school, come home, do my homework, go to soccer practice, come home, eat, finish my homework, play a few video games, and go to bed.”
After playing collegiately at the University of Virginia, Etienne turned professional and spent four years with the New Jersey Red Bulls before moving to Columbus, Ohio, to play for the Crew. Etienne is also a member of his home country’s soccer squad, the Hatian National Team, which he said competed for a spot in the Olympics but did not qualify.
Etienne said soccer has taken him around the world, including Japan, Trinidad and Tobago, Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, Mexico and El Salvador. Etienne lives in Columbus, Ohio, during the Crew season and returns to stay with his parents in the city’s Eastside neighborhood during the offseason.
“Not too long ago we gave the key of the city to, perhaps, the greatest movie director in history, Steven Spielberg,” Sayegh said at the ceremony. “Today we present the same to Derrick, not for his movies, but for his moves.”