Hiebert climbing to great heights in MLS
La Salle defender bounces back from serious injuries to realize pro soccer dream
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If 2016 was Kyle Hiebert’s rock bottom, 2023 may just be his trip to the summit.
Hiebert, who grew up in La Salle dreaming of playing soccer professionally, tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee on a slide tackle in 2015, shelving him for his freshman college season at Missouri State University (MSU), then tore the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his other knee the following spring.
A second injury not only sidelined the Bears defender for a consecutive season but left his dreams in doubt.
“The second one even more than the first because the second one, I was like, ‘OK, what is going on?’ said Hiebert, 25. “But throughout that, I always had faith that God had a plan for my life and for my soccer career, so I held onto that.”
Hiebert has since remained in good health and turned into a force on the pitch. After becoming the first player in the Missouri Valley Conference to win three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards, the Bears captain was offered a professional contract in 2022 with St. Louis City Soccer Club, an MLS expansion team. He spent last season with the club’s development side, St. Louis City 2, of the MLS NEXT Pro League.
This off-season, Hiebert became the first player in franchise history to be called up to the big club. He made his MLS debut with St. Louis City SC on Feb. 25 with his wife, Cassidy, parents and a few Canadian friends in attendance.
“It was a surreal moment walking out,” Hiebert told the Free Press Friday. “Even for the warmups, just getting booed by the opposition crowd. It was probably the first game I played where you could not communicate with anyone on the field if they were further than five feet away from you, because the crowd was so loud the entire game.
It wasn’t until after the match had ended that Hiebert took a moment to reflect on his journey while sitting at his locker.
“I was super thankful. Throughout the staff and throughout the club, people have believed in me. So to get a chance to be able to prove some of those people right, it means a lot and it was a huge honour,” he said.
Hiebert has started in each of St. Louis City’s first three matches this season, helping the club to a 3-0 record. He scored the deciding goal in the 75th minute against Portland on Saturday, establishing himself in MLS.
Hiebert said he believes his injuries may have been a stroke of luck, looking back at it now. He planned to attend MSU for three years before going pro. Instead, he spent six and a half years, owing to his injuries. The extra time aligned the end of his college career with St. Louis City 2’s launch.
“So, it’s funny looking back. Without those hurdles, I’m not here. I’m somewhere else or this pro soccer thing didn’t happen at all,” Hiebert said. “It’s crazy, I thought that could be negatively affecting my career and it’s actually the exact opposite.”
The decision to sign Hiebert to the big club was made with little hesitation, according to Bradley Carnell, head coach for St. Louis City SC.
“The best thing I liked about working with Kyle, was working with Kyle. Obviously, he went undrafted, but we knew the certain qualities and physical capabilities and attributes that Kyle possesses,” Carnell said.
“I promise you, Kyle didn’t just hit the scene now. January of 2022, when we had these guy in pre-season camp, Kyle started his MLS career there, because we could see and forecast that I was very comfortable with taking Kyle on this journey.”
Hiebert said he wanted to become a staple in the MLS and fulfil his lifelong goal of playing for Canada in the World Cup. It’s a goal that didn’t seem achievable just a few years ago, when he was at his lowest. Times have certainly changed.
“The mountain top now,” Hiebert said to describe how he feels at this point in his career. “These last few weeks, it’s been hard to pin a specific day or a specific moment because all three games have been crazy special in their own way. First game was my first MLS start, then we get the first home game in St. Louis City history, and then I get to score my first MLS goal in a come-from-behind win.
“All three of these games will forever have a special place in my heart.”
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.