It hasn't taken long for Wellington's Dan Keat to experience the peaks and troughs associated with life as a professional footballer.
After four solid years at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in the United States, the 23-year-old thought he'd won the lottery in January when the Los Angeles Galaxy – America's highest profile club team – picked him No 3 in Major League Soccer's supplemental draft.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena was glowing in his praise for the promising midfielder, but things came unstuck when he fractured a heel in preseason training.
It sidelined the redhead for two months but Keat finally made his senior Galaxy debut on Sunday in a World Football Challenge friendly.
The crowd? 56,211 at the LA Memorial Coliseum.
The team-mates? David Beckham, Juninho, Juan Pablo Angel and Landon Donovan.
The opponents? Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Mesut Ozil and Iker Casillas.
"It has obviously been a pretty interesting start to my professional career," Keat said.
"It was a pretty crazy experience, to be honest. The players that were on the field, you don't really appreciate what they can do until you see it up close and personal.
"It's just a whole different level to anything that I've really played at before so it was a great experience. I got on and I think I did all right, so it was good for me."
Keat replaced Juninho in the 71st minute as Ronaldo scored in a 4-1 Madrid romp.
While overlooked for yesterday's MLS clash with the Columbus Crew, Keat felt he had done enough to earn more game time in Monday's friendly against English Premier League giants Manchester City.
"I'd been on the bench a couple of times but had not got on the field, so it was nice to get on the field, get some time and do well. Hopefully, if I can play well against a team like that, soon enough they'll have the faith in me to do it in the league."
It would be easy for a humble young Kiwi to be star-struck rubbing shoulders with the likes of Beckham on a daily basis, but Keat appears to have his head screwed on.
"It's a really good changing room to be a part of. It's a good team atmosphere and those guys are great with their time on and off the field. If you can learn bits and pieces from them, you can't go wrong really. Good players always seem like they've got time on the ball and it's not necessarily that they do, it's just that they deal with the situation in the right way."
Keat lives with the other rookies on the Galaxy roster and is enjoying LA's sun and beaches. Helping keep his feet on the ground are All Whites Andy Boyens and Simon Elliott, who play for MLS rivals Chivas USA but share the Galaxy's training facilities.
"I run into Andy and Simon a lot. I bumped into them today, coming out of the training ground and had a good chat with them. I keep in touch with guys that I've played with like Michael Boxall, and you're never far from a Kiwi, which is good. It helps to keep a little bit of perspective and it's nice to hear a familiar accent."
WITH such a wealth of midfield talent, Keat may require an injury or two if he is to break into the Galaxy first team on a regular basis.
He knows this, but has faith in his own ability.
"One of the things about LA is it's the best club in the league with the best facilities and the best players, but it's a tough nut to crack. But I think I'll get there eventually – it's a matter of being patient and continuing to knock on the door and take my chance when I get it."
Keat, who captained New Zealand at the 2007 under-20 World Cup, believes he is good enough to play for the All Whites should Ricki Herbert come calling.
"You always want to play for the national team and it's something that I think I'm capable of. But what can you do – just keep plugging away and hope you eventually crack it."
Name: Dan Keat
Physical: 1.73m, 75kg
Educated: Hutt International Boys' School
University: Dartmouth College, USA
Club: LA Galaxy
International: Captained New Zealand at the 2007 under-20 World Cup
Also: Keat was selected third in this year's MLS supplemental draft and won first team all-Ivy honours with Dartmouth last year
- The Dominion Post
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