Professional Delaware men’s soccer alumni reflect on their journeys and experiences
The 2016 Delaware men’s soccer season was truly one of the finest to date. Not only did the Blue Hens make it to the playoffs, but they also won the CAA conference championship, which came along with a berth to the NCAA tournament.
“That was good memories … That was such a great moment, you know; we won it, that was crazy,” Arno Masson-Viale, three-year Delaware soccer player, reminisced.
Two of Delaware’s players at the time — Thomas de Villardi and Guillermo Delgado — were international students from France and Spain respectively who took a step even further than that and were drafted by Major League Soccer (MLS), America’s top soccer league.
De Villardi, after transferring to Delaware from Duquesne University in 2015, started all thirty-nine matches he played in as a midfielder and ranked tied for 7th in school history with 13 assists in two seasons at Delaware.
He also took on several titles, including All-CAA First Team, and CAA Tournament Most Outstanding Performer. Shortly after his last season ended, he was selected 42nd overall by Minnesota United FC.
Simultaneously, in Guillermo Delgado’s four years at Delaware as a forward, he became the team’s all-time leader in points, goals, assists, game-winning goals and shots, and ranked 14th nationally in goals, ninth in total points and seventh in average points scored per game (1.68).
He also started in every match he played in, and took on numerous titles as well, including ECAC First Team All-East and CAA Player of the Year. In January 2017, he was taken 27th by the Chicago Fire.
Only one other Delaware player had ever been drafted to MLS — Evans Frimpong, who graduated in 2012.
Two years have passed since de Villardi graduated, and two and a half since Delgado graduated.
Things have changed, and their journeys have both uniquely shifted.
After being selected by the Fire, Delgado returned to Delaware for spring semester to finish out his degree. When he went back to the Fire in June after graduation, he decided, with the team, not to stay with them for various reasons.
He went home to Spain and trained for about four months, and he kept a temporary job in the meantime.
“I was uncertain about the future,” Delgado said in reflection, “but at the same time confident in my abilities.”
In January 2018, he joined the Rio Grande Valley Toros of the United Soccer League (USL) as a forward and played in seven games of their season.
“[That] season wasn’t too good for me so I am seeking new opportunities … as well as working out … for next season,” Delgado said.
The transition between college soccer and professional soccer is not as drastic as it may seem.
“Being there was a challenge overall as your salary and life now depend on your performance,” Delgado said. “[But] no huge changes came to my life other than that. You’re realizing that you have to fully dedicate your body and mind if you want to succeed.”
The USL 2019 season started in early March.
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Meanwhile, de Villardi had a different set of experiences.
After graduating in December 2016 and getting drafted a month later, he was able to jump right into preseason and participate in preseason games.
However, in professional soccer, a drafted player doesn’t immediately sign with a team after selection. Just three days after de Villardi officially signed with Minnesota United in March 2017, he tore his Achilles’ tendon and had to end his season before it had even begun.
“It was a shock I guess, because it was my first really long-term injury. So I started to question myself a lot — was I really ready? I thought I was ready but a lot of variables went into that injury. But after a week or two, I was already focusing on the rehab,” de Villardi explained.
Unfortunately, after going through surgery and an intense rehab period for seven months, de Villardi tore his Achilles again — a “double tear” — and had to restart the recovery process all over again.
“The second time was the worst,” he said. “You have to start all over again, have surgery again, after seven months’ rehab time … [It] took almost like ten months to really start running again, [after going] into rehab, [and it] gave me my confidence back.”
Two months after his second injury, he returned to Paris and did lots of introspection.
“I learned a lot through that period, just like the rehab stuff. I learned a bunch of stuff about my body — even my mind, you know — so I think you grow through those difficult times,” he said. “[Now] I’m going to work hard like I always do, but you never know. Now I’m more aware of the difficulty. You just got to take what life gives you.”
In addition, there were some unexpected, positive points to his experience.
“It gave me the chance to go back to France for like a year, because I didn’t get a chance to go back for like 5 years before that. I did go for a couple months [on vacation] but it’s not the same. [Overall] it’s just a different path. We never know the outcome; you just got to enjoy the path.”
Months later, just recently at the end of November 2018, de Villardi signed with the newly-formed Austin Bold FC of the USL, and will continue his professional career.
“People react differently [to situations],” de Villardi said. “If you really love soccer you only have one option: keep going. Understand most things about your body and mind. Take it step by step. Even after more than a year of playing after the second [injury], I’m not even 100 percent. You never really feel 100 percent. I’m still going through that phase, even though [now] I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Like I said, it’s like a day by day stuff. It’s a process. But if you trust the people working with you, it gets easier.”
What advice would de Villardi and Delgado offer to aspiring athletes?
“The past is the past — you don’t have to change it; it’s already done. I don’t like to have remorse, it doesn’t help to grow,” de Villardi said.
“Be humble, dedicate yourself, and put everything into it. And most importantly, have fun,” Delgado said. “I would [also] say appreciate what you earn and maintain it, because good things in life must be secured at all cost.”