Lehigh men’s soccer senior forward Mark Forrest dribbles the ball up the field during the game against Drexel University on Monday, August 27, 2019, at Ulrich Sports Complex. Forrest was drafted in the fourth round by Major League Soccer team Chicago Fire. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

Mark Forrest prepares for professional soccer debut

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Plenty of college athletes who get drafted to play a sport professionally give up finishing their degree to jump straight into the big leagues, but not Mark Forrest.

Following his graduation, the senior soccer player will take the next step in his athletic career after being drafted in the fourth round by Major League Soccer team Chicago Fire.

Forrest will enter the MLS with his bachelor’s degree in management.

Although MLS is mid-season, Forrest and representatives of Chicago Fire reached an agreement allowing him to finish his senior year and graduate with his degree.

In this agreement, Forrest will also spend a year playing in the division below MLS, the United Soccer League. Forrest earned a roster spot on the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and will stay in Pennsylvania before playing for the Chicago Fire.

Forrest said he never expected to be at this point when he first came to Lehigh.

It was not until he started performing at a consistently high standard at the collegiate level that he realized his future could be intertwined with soccer.

“Once I started playing well and playing at a higher level, I saw it as being a realistic possibility and strongly considered (playing professionally),” Forrest said. “I said to myself that if it’s a possibility then I would like to try it and see how it goes and, if not, I’ll be more than OK.”

While Forrest may not have been sure where his soccer career would take him when he first joined Lehigh’s soccer program, the same cannot be said for coach Dean Koski.

For Koski, who has had four other players get drafted by professional soccer teams under his reign, it didn’t take long to consider Forrest an extremely gifted player.

Forrest was a prolific goal scorer at the club and high school levels even before coming to Lehigh, and the same became true at the collegiate level.

As a freshman, Koski estimated that Forrest only played around 75 percent of the season as he adapted to the pace of the collegiate level, yet he still ended up leading the league with 11 goals.

“To me it was a signature moment, not only in his career but in our minds that we have one of the best forwards in the league as a freshman and that we still have him for the next three years,” Koski said.

Koski wasn’t far off from his assessment of Forrest as a freshman, and since then, Forrest has racked up more goals, assists and individual accolades that made him stand out to professional teams like the Chicago Fire.

Forrest will continue to follow Lehigh soccer and will always be a Lehigh supporter after he leaves, he said, but now it is his family, friends’ and teammates’ turn to support him.

Senior defender Matt Morana recalled the excitement he and his teammates felt when they learned Forrest would be playing at the next level.

“A lot of us were following the draft live, and I immediately FaceTimed him, but I wasn’t able to get in touch with him for about 30 or 45 minutes after the announcement came out because his phone was blowing up,” Morana said. “We were all so excited for him, and we are all following his path.”

Forrest’s path into the world of professional soccer will not be without its challenges, Koski said, such as the allurement of a stable corporate job.

Koski, though, believes that Forrest is willing to buckle down and fight his way through the USL and into the MLS. Forrest said he feels ready for the challenges ahead.

“It’s going to be very different, but I feel like I’m ready for it,” Forrest said. “I’m ready to leave Lehigh and go do something somewhere else, and I’m excited about it.”

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