Darren Abate / SAFC
Kris Tyrpak had a plan when he went to college. It was to major in biology and go on to dental school. It was to finish and practice dentistry in Texas, perhaps in Dripping Springs (population 1,788) where he grew up, among the rolling hills of his youth.
Dripping Springs is known for a lot of things – wedding capital of Texas, gateway to the Hill Country, home to some fine musicians and singer/songwriters – but it is not known for producing professional athletes.
That Tyrpak – pronounced TEER-pack – became an exception happened not by chance, but by unexpected reality. The longer he stayed at Houston Baptist University, the harder school got. And the longer he played soccer, the easier the sport got. In short, Tyrpak went to college for academics only to find his groove in athletics.
“I never in my wildest dreams expected to become a professional soccer player,” said Tyrpak, 25, a San Antonio FC midfielder and the second leading scorer on the team.
If you checked the rosters of all 30 teams in the United Soccer League it is unlikely you would find a single player whose desire to play professionally came after high school. And there’s virtually no chance of finding anyone whose ambition in college shifted from peering into oral cavities to kicking a ball.
“I think most pro soccer players aspired to be pro soccer players,” said SAFC head coach Darren Powell.
Powell, 41, has coached for more than 16 years. He does not know the background of every player he has coached, but he considers Tyrpak’s story unique. Tyrpak has played professionally since 2014. Has he known anyone who did not dream of playing pro soccer since childhood?
“I haven’t, actually,” Tyrpak said.
There’s never been anyone from Dripping Springs like him. To the best of anyone’s knowledge at the Chamber of Commerce, Dripping Springs has never produced a pro soccer player – let alone one drafted by Major League Soccer.
While Tyrpak has been playing soccer since he was 5, his first love was baseball. As a kid, he looked up to Mark McGwire, who hit 70 home runs in 1998. Tyrpak did not know McGwire had set the Major League record with an assist from steroids. What the kid knew was that he wanted play Major League baseball.
Born in Austin, Tyrpak moved with his family 25 miles west to Dripping Springs when he was in kindergarten. On his parents’ 22 acre property, Tyrpak played ball with his dad. He also played soccer with his younger brother, Nick, who went on to play for Our Lady of the Lake University.
Before he turned 13, Tyrpak joined a select soccer club in Austin, the best in the city. But baseball – he was a star shortstop – remained his favorite sport until high school. That’s when it hit him: America’s favorite pastime is too slow.
“It’s the only sport you can play and eat at the same time,” he said. “If you’re in the batter’s box or the dugout … ‘Hey, I can pop that hot dog in real quick.’”
Tyrpak grew with Dripping Springs. He remembers when Dairy Queen was the only fast-food joint in town. Years later, a Sonic arrived. Then came a Taco Bell. “When I first got there, there was no major grocery store,” he said. “If you wanted to watch a movie, you had to drive to Barton Creek Mall in Austin. That was about 35 to 40 minutes away. So we’d generally make a day out of it – watch a movie and go grocery shopping afterwards.”
As Tyrpak moved into Dripping Springs High School, he noticed new housing divisions, an influx of people, and then, as a sophomore, he noticed a pretty freshman on the girls’ soccer team, Amy Davis. Tyrpak and Amy dated through high school. They remained together when he went to Houston Baptist and she went to the University of Houston. The relationship continued when she transferred to St. Edward’s in Austin and then to the University of Texas.
By the time they got married in 2014, Tyrpak was one year into a pro career he never imagined. Soccer, he thought, would be an entertaining diversion at Houston Baptist. But then he was named Atlantic Soccer Conference Rookie of the Year and first-team all-conference after his first season. The honors continued to pile up.
“Soccer kept getting better and better and school kept getting harder and harder,” he said. “I realized my junior year that dentistry might not be my calling, but soccer … maybe I should pursue that.”
Three years ago, Tyrpak became the first Houston Baptist player to be drafted since the 1980s. He played briefly with Chivas USA before the team folded, then had stints with the San Jose Earthquakes, the Austin Aztecs, and the now-defunct San Antonio Scorpions.
In 2016, he led the Swope Park Rangers to the USL Cup Final with seven goals and one assist in 28 regular season games and three goals and one assist in four playoff matches. He joined San Antonio FC in December.
“Kris is having a very good season,” Powell offered.
“It could definitely be a little better,” Tyrpak said.
This is what he did Wednesday night against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2: In the 14th minute, Tyrpak took a cross from defender Greg Cochrane and headed the ball across the mouth of the goal.
A Toyota Field crowd of 6,037 erupted as the ball flew past goalkeeper Sean Melvin and into the net. The goal, Tyrpak’s sixth of the season, gave San Antonio FC (12-2-9) a 1-0 victory, strengthened the team’s grip on second in the USL Western Conference, and underscored the improbability of his story.
Five years ago, soccer was his ticket to a degree in biology and a career in dentistry. Now the game is his career and he’s thrilling crowds three times the population of Dripping Springs.
— San Antonio FC (@SanAntonioFC) August 24, 2017