Henry Kessler, a member of the Virginia men’s soccer team from 2017-19 graduated in three years  and was drafted sixth overall by the New England Revolution in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. He anchored a Virginia defense in 2019 that ranked No. 1 in the country in goals against average (.528) and shutouts (15). The 2019 Cavaliers won 22 games, the 2019 ACC Championship and reached the College Cup Final. Kessler played every minute of the final 31 games of his collegiate career, earned All-America honors as a junior and was named the MVP of the 2019 ACC Tournament.

Q: We’re sure this isn’t the way you envisioned your first year of professional soccer going but most importantly, how are you and where are you located these days? Have you been able to get any sort of training in?
Kessler: This is certainly not how I envisioned my first professional season. Ha ha. This is unlike something I, or anyone else for that matter, have ever experienced before. I’m doing as well as I can be right now. Trying to stay positive and hope things get back to normal. I live just outside of Foxboro where we play and practice. Here I have been able to get some training in. There is a track not too far from where I live which has been useful. The Revolution also provided us with stationary bikes, a kettle bell and exercise bands to help us stay fit. 

Q: You were selected sixth overall by the New England Revolution, coached by former UVA head coach Bruce Arena. What’s it like playing for Bruce? Are there any similarities between him and Coach Gelnovatch?
Kessler: Playing for coach Bruce Arena is great. I haven’t had a ton of time with him only being about two months into my professional career, but I’ve really enjoyed playing for him so far. In regards to similarities with Coach Gelnovatch, I’m sure more will come to light the more time I spend with coach Bruce, but I really appreciate how they are both straight shooters. They tell it like it is, and aren’t shy about. I think I’m similar so maybe that’s why I like this style. I find it very easy to understand what message they are trying to get across, what they want us to do, and what they want us to get better at. 

Q: After going through preseason and two games at the professional level, how did UVA prepare you both athletically and mentally for the professional game? Kessler:

Athletically I have to give credit to men’s soccer strength and conditioning coach Peter Alston. I found his techniques in the weight room, his exercises in the training room to make me stronger and more flexible. I still do many of the exercises he taught me today. As far as mental preparation, that’s something that I think only I prepared myself for. I think it’s difficult to try to prepare someone else mentally, it’s something that has to come from the player. 

Q: You haven’t missed a minute of soccer dating back to your sophomore season at UVA, including playing full 90s in in the first two games of the MLS season. What do you attribute your durability to and has your continuity on the pitch become a sense of pride for you?
Kessler: First of all, I’m glad someone’s keeping track, thank you. It’s a statistic I’m definitely very proud of so I hope to keep it going. I was tied for the lead in minutes played in the NCAA this past year and tied for the lead in minutes played in MLS this season. It was only two games in like you said, so nothing serious yet. I attribute this mostly to the amount of time I spend on my body off the field. I try to spend an hour in the training room before practice and an hour after practice. Same goes for games and off days. There is always something that you can work on. You’re never going to be 100 percent so there’s always something that you can try to loosen up or make feel better, and in turn this will keep you on the field.
I remember our athletic trainer at UVA, Jeff Boyer, telling me – jokingly, but not really – to leave the training room after spending substantial time there. The trainers with the Revs say I have “perfect attendance” in the training room thus far this year. I’ve tried to increase this regiment now because I have a bit more time without school, adding the occasional yoga session. Nutrition and hydration also play a role on any given day just to make sure I can play the full 90 minutes, so I try to do my best to be hydrated and well fed too. 

Q: Another UVA connection, former teammate Jeff Caldwell (keeper), is on the roster with you in New England. Has having a familiar face with you helped the adjustment to the next level?
Kessler: It was great especially when I came to the team to know that there was going to be someone that I knew. It was a comforting feeling that I already had a friend on the squad. He’s a guy that in my corner no matter what, literally in the locker room, and figuratively. 
Q: Lastly, the 2019 team will go down as one of the best to ever come through UVA. When you look back at the team, what do you think of and how proud are you of what you guys accomplished?
Kessler: This is a great question and one that brings up so many emotions for me. “Will go down as one of the best ever to come through UVA” is flattering and an incredible statement given the teams that have come before us at this program, but unfortunately the first thing that I think of is losing the National Championship game. It’s a shame because we had a great, great season, but the ‘what could have been’ is hard to avoid this thinking of. I talked about it with Robin Afamefuna and if we win that game, we go from “one of the best ever to come through UVA” to maybe “the best college soccer team ever,” and that hurts, and it’s something that’s going to take a me a while to get over.
Having said that, we did incredible things. Kept too many clean sheets to count, won the ACC regular season and the ACC tournament, both of which are very difficult to do. Had a 21-1-2 record which is just unheard of. We won, habitually. We set the standard so high there were games we won and we weren’t happy. Every time we stepped onto the pitch, we honestly thought we would win, and it’s pretty hard to get to that point, and we did so I am certainly proud of what we accomplished in 2019.