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  • Writer's pictureSoccer Down Here

John Berner's path to goal and Atlanta

by Madison Crews

The goalkeeper is the most unique position on the pitch, and it’s only fitting for the player to fill that position to have a unique path as well.

John Berner, who is the goalkeeper for Atlanta United 2, laughed when asked what drew him to this position in the first place. 

“It’s a blend of many different athletics into one. I feel like growing up I played a lot of different sports like baseball, ice hockey, volleyball and soccer,” said Berner. “I feel like goalkeeping was a blend of everything. Once I started, it clicked and here I am.”

Berner played soccer collegiately at SIU Edwardsville before he was picked by the Colorado Rapids in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. At Colorado Rapids, Berner was the third string goalkeeper behind Clint Irwin and Joe Nasco, but that all changed once the season started. 

After the last game of preseason, Clint Irwin got injured and Joe Nasco was having a baby, so Berner became the number one. 

“First game of the year and first ever professional appearance, I’m in and that's how it all started,” Berner said. “It was good. I was thrown into the deep end quick. It was sink or swim, and I was able to swim.”

Berner has seen it all. He played in the USL Championship with Charlotte Independence, St. Louis FC, Phoenix Rising and Memphis 901. He also played with MLS Next Pro club Huntsville City FC, and was the goalkeeper coach in 2023. Berner has seen it all, but all of the jumping around has positive and negative experiences. 

“There are downsides to the bouncing around and trying to get your feet stuck in, but I have been able to play with a ton of good guys and build a ton of relationships that I will carry with me forever,” said Berner. 

After all of the jumping around, Berner landed in Atlanta with the 2's. Berner joined the team in December 2023, and he was already very familiar with a member of the coaching staff. 

Head Coach Steve Cooke and Berner have known each other since 2014 when he was drafted to the Colorado Rapids. Berner said that they have always stayed in touch throughout the years, and that “when you meet good people in this game you tend to keep in touch.”

This moment felt like a full circle moment for Berner for many reasons, but the main one stems from when he was playing soccer at SIU Edwardsville. 


“Steve was always the guy that believed in me. He came to one of my college games to scout another player, Matt Polster, who has had a very good career, spent some time in Europe and is up in New England now,” said Berner. “He came to scout him, and then he was like ‘man, look at the guy in goal.’ I feel like Cooke was always the guy that believes in me.”

Cooke and Berner will reminisce on the field about the western conference finals in 2016 when they were both with Colorado, and how they shared many special memories from their time together at the club. 

Berner has seen it all and has been through it all. He has enjoyed getting to know each player on the team, and because of how interchanging this squad is with the first team and the academy, he gets to see a lot of young talent. 

“I think there are a lot of good kids, and it's cool to see where they are at and what their level is,” said Berner. “I got a really good friend who’s the academy goalie coach in St. Louis and we were reminiscing about things like ‘when I was young’ or ‘when I was this age.’ It's just different worlds, and to see the ability and the skill that these guys all have, it’s really fun to see.” 

Berner isn’t just the starting goalkeeper for Atlanta United 2, he is one of the leaders for this group. It was a role that he has embraced since he joined the team back in December. 

“I have been very fortunate to play with some big names that I learned a lot from, and you pick up little nuggets from each guy or each manager and how he handled a certain situation,” Berner said. “I feel like I have tried to bring that every single day and hopefully these young guys can look at me and learn as well.”  

As the season will continue Monday when Atlanta United 2 faces Philadelphia Union II, Berner has his own personal goals for himself this season. 

“For me, playing consistent minutes has been a big one,” Berner said when asked about his goals for the season. “I have dealt with some injuries in my career and have had to deal with that. Any guy that is playing on the second team wants to play for the first time, and that is still a big picture goal for me. That will take care of itself, but just to play consistent games and to showcase what I can do.”

With a journey like Berner’s, there are going to be a few bumps in the road, but when asked about how he overcame these challenges, here is what he said.

“It has been a crazy journey with ups and downs and a rollercoaster. It’s always really difficult to see when you're in it. It’s very difficult to see why this happened, but something good can come of that,” said Berner. “It is a reminder to myself that no matter how gray or rainy it is, something good can always come on the back end of that. That is something I feel like I have learned and have had to take with me.”  

Berner’s story is one about resilience and overcoming adversity which is something everyone can learn from. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and for John Berner, his journey is far from over as his next chapter starts in Atlanta. 


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