Football: Young All White Noah Billingsley relieved to put US turmoil behind him ahead of debut Major League Soccer season

Noah Billingsley
Noah Billingsley Photo credit: Images - Photosport and supplied

America's Major League Soccer restart couldn't come soon enough for Kiwi footballer Noah Billingsley.

His rookie year as a professional has been far from conventional, disrupted by the coronavirus, the 'Black Lives Matter' movement and a heart condition that threatened to derail his career before it started.

Billingsley was the 18th overall pick by Minnesota United in the MLS 'Super Draft', an exciting moment for the University of California-Santa Barbara alumnus hoping to earn himself a full-time contract with the 'Loons'.

All was going well, until his medical exam picked up an anomaly with his heart, sidelining him until he was cleared by the team doctors.

"It was tough, because I was over the moon and had to get started, and then got told I had to wait, because I had this thing" Billingsley tells Newshub.

That 'thing' is known as Wolfe-Parkinson-White syndrome, a fairly rare condition that can cause the heart to beat rapidly.

"Basically, my heart, when it gets going, when I'm exercising, sometimes gets stuck in this weird loop, where it beats really, really fast.

"It's no problem. They've [the club doctors] told me there are ways around it - I can get a little device if I wanted to and there's ways I can get round it.

"It was a little scary, but as I say, it's no big deal, so it's all good" he says.

After getting the all-clear to train again, Billingsley had to complete the fitness tests by himself. The whole team watched on amazed, as the MLS newbie went on to smash the club's records.

"Far and away the fittest guy on the team," teammate and compatriot Michael Boxall says.

"I think it was like 10-15 seconds I cleared it by, so I was pretty happy with that," Billingsley adds.

But the rollercoaster didn't end there.

With the season postponed due to coronavirus, the 22-year-old spent lockdown at his Minnesota apartment - the same city where George Floyd died in police custody.

He watched from his window, as fires from looting lit up the night sky and army vehicles patrolled the streets.

"It was, honestly, the craziest thing I've ever seen." Billingsley says. "Gas stations were being burnt down, banks being broken into and robbed, pharmacies... all that sort of thing."

Billingsley stayed inside at night, but ventured out during the day, when he picked up supplies from the supermarket.

He also participated in peaceful protests, something he says was very eye-opening.

With a father of African descent, Black Lives Matter is something Billingsley believes in passionately.

His Minnesota teammates believe in it as well and, as a team, they posted a video in support of the movement, taking a knee around the centre circle, while raising their fists.

"You want to make a statement, but you want to make sure it's done in good taste" Billingsley says.

"It was actually James Musa, the other Kiwi... he got his drone out and made a cool video to show our support.

"I'm really proud to be part of an organisation that stands up for what they believe in."

Billingsley hopes to put his hand up for some game-time on the field during the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.

While he's sitting behind a current All-Star in terms of the right-back pecking order, the condensed structure of the tournament, the heat of Orlando, and a new substitute rule that allow five changes per game all bode well for a potential MLS debut.

"I think it works in my favour. Maybe guys get a little bit more tired than they usually would, so it gives me an opportunity to come on.

"I'm just happy to be a part of the team. If they use me, they use me - if they don’t - they don’t, that's ok.

"I'm going to keep working hard and hopefully I can help the team out in any way I can."

Minnesota play their first game against Sporting Kansas City on Monday.