Former Heanor keeper aims to grab his MLS chance and extend US adventure
FORMER Heanor Town goalkeeper James Belshaw has been handed the chance to play Major League Soccer in the United States.
The 22-year-old was selected by Chicago Fire in the MLS Supplemental Draft ahead of the upcoming 2013 campaign.
Belshaw has now joined up with his new team-mates for pre-season training as he bids to earn a place on the official roster before the Fire's season opener against the Los Angeles Galaxy in early March.
The Nottingham-born stopper joined Heanor as a teenager when they played their football in the Central Midlands League.
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At the end of the 2007-08 season, he was named the Lions' young player of the year and supporters' player of the year.
A move to Walsall followed, where he became part of the Saddlers' under-18 side.
He made the first-team squad on one occasion before moving to the US in 2008 to take up a scholarship at Duke University in North Carolina.
Belshaw impressed during four seasons at Duke, where he made 77 appearances for the Blue Devils and captained the side.
Despite being overlooked in the initial MLS Superdraft in Indianapolis, he was picked up by Chicago in the secondary draft.
"It was completely out of the blue," said Belshaw. "At the MLS Combine, when you have the training camps, the different MLS coaches come and speak with you and I didn't have contact with the Fire like I did with other MLS coaches.
"I was just watching the Supplemental Draft online and saw that I was chosen by Chicago and I was excited.
"Chicago is a great place and I'm pleased they took a chance on me – and now I hope I can repay them.
"Things are going well. I've settled in well at the camp.
"The guys have been great and I feel like I'm giving a good account of myself.
"So I'm just trying to do the best I can to prove that I deserve a spot on the roster and try to earn a contract here."
Belshaw has not forgotten his time at Heanor and retains fond memories of his spell there.
"Heanor was great," he said. "I was in the reserves with a team at Dunkirk beforehand and not really going anywhere and Jamie Bennett, who was the Heanor manager at the time, gave me a chance as a 16-year old.
"By playing in men's football at 16, I was sort of thrust into the deep end but everyone involved with the club – the managers, the fans, the owners – were all great with me and I have nothing but fond memories of my year and a half there.
"It gave me the platform to move on with my career and I'll be ever grateful for that."
He added: "I keep in touch with the Heanor fans and some of my former team-mates – the likes of Lee Stevenson and Graham Wells – through Facebook and Twitter.
"I'm also still in touch with Jamie Bennett and a couple of the older guys at the club.
"They sort of took me under their wing when I got to Heanor and they were great to me."
Bennett, now manager of Derbyshire side Glapwell, also played a part in Belshaw's move to the US.
"I was playing for Walsall and Duke got in touch with him," Belshaw added. "They set up a meeting and started speaking to me.
"Before that, I didn't really know anything about Duke or the States.
"It didn't work out at Walsall, for one reason or the other, so I decided to come out to the States and give it a go."
Belshaw believes his time at Duke has helped him develop as a goalkeeper.
"I think I became bigger, stronger and more athletic," he said. "One of the main focuses at Duke was building athletes.
"I think I also became more confident. I started all four years and played about 80 games at Duke, so I gained valuable experience.
"It was nice to be thrown into an environment where I wasn't comfortable and I was forced to test myself – and I think I did a good job."
While his immediate aim is to earn a contract with Chicago, Belshaw admits he would like to return to play in England again at some point in the future.
"At the moment, my goal is to get a contract with the Chicago Fire and start a career out here but I think further down the line, I would like to return to England," he said.
"For me, right now, it's just getting an opportunity to play wherever I can play and that's where I'd like to be."
Belshaw is still young in goalkeeping terms and he hopes he has a long and successful career ahead of him.
"I want to start for many years," he said. "I want to leave a legacy on the game.
"That's what I wanted to do at Duke. I wanted to be a part of the success as a team and leave something behind and I think I did that.
"Now it's just about pushing myself the extra mile to play games and be part of a team's success – and build a successful career around football."