North Shore native Justin Rennicks has become a small town success story, joining the ranks of professionals on the New England Revolution and scoring the game-winning goal for the United States at the 2019 FIFA under-20 World Cup
When Justin Rennicks stepped onto the pitch at Gillette Stadium this past March, the moment could hardly have been bigger. It was the season’s first home game for the New England Revolution, a fixture of Major League Soccer (MLS) since the league’s mid-1990s origins. For the 20-year-old Rennicks, a forward and top prospect from South Hamilton who joined the team in January, these were his first minutes of professional soccer, playing against and alongside other pros. As he subbed in for the second half against Columbus Crew, family and friends who’d made the 60-mile drive from the North Shore watched from the stands.
Rennicks freely admits he showed up to his pro debut with “nerves all over the place,” but they quickly vanished. “In reality, you’re meant to play with these guys,” Rennicks says. “You’re there for a reason, and it comes down to your confidence. If you have the confidence, you’re going to perform.”
Rennicks has kept on performing in the months since since. At the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, he scored the U.S. national team’s game-winning goal over France. Back home, he scored his first professional goal against Orlando City and started his first game with the Revs, a 2-1 win over Houston. In July, Rennicks was named of 22 players added to the U.S. national team to compete in the MLS Homegrown Game. And with the Revs’ fortunes turning around under a new head coach and in the shadow of a $35 million training facility under construction, Rennicks has ample chances to sustain that momentum.
“It comes down to being a starter, getting more and more minutes every game, and trying to be one of the regular subs that you know is going to come in and make an impact,” he says.
Rennicks, born and raised in South Hamilton, is no stranger to Foxborough. He emerged as a standout striker over four years with the Revolution Academy—one of the top youth player developmental programs in the country—scoring a total of 38 goals and 25 assists, becoming the only player to earn two Revolution Academy Player of the Year awards, and making a host of appearances in international youth competitions. After two seasons playing for Indiana University—where he scored half a dozen goals and three game-winning points—Rennicks became the sixth player from the Revolution Academy to join the team’s MLS squad, signing a HomeGrown player contract in January.
And today, after a team-worst start to the season, the New England Revolution has counterbalanced its record and registered enough wins to eye an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Along with making a series of key player signings and investing in a new training facility under construction near Gillette Stadium, the Revs hired Bruce Arena—a National Soccer Hall of Famer and one of the most successful coaches in American soccer – as the team’s new head coach in May. “[Bruce] does everything he can for us, and he’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had,” Rennicks says. “He’s done an unbelievable job with us so far.”
Lately, Rennicks feels he’s found his element. He knows he still has things to work on—cleaner finishing, maybe improving first touch – but he has solid mentors in his teammates, namely Andrew Farrell and Juan Agudelo. And while he has aspirations of competing in Europe one day, for now Rennick is happily living in Hamilton, spending idle moments with his girlfriend, swimming in backyard pools, or lobbing a football—an American football—with high school friends at Crane Beach. “What’s great about Hamilton is that you can go in any direction and you’ll find a beach,” he says.
That scenery is a welcome respite from what he sees driving south to practice and home games: red brake lights. “I know every day of the week I’ll hit traffic—it’s not pretty,” Rennicks says. “In reality, I get to go home, see my family, see my friends, and just hang out. I think it’s completely worth it.”