When No Really Means Not Yet

March 7, 2011


By Eric Bankston

At one point or another, every individual has envisioned the job of their dreams – that one position that fuels all of the hard work, sacrifices, and success that take place in an effort to reach the professional pinnacle of one’s career.

That is what makes March 19th such a special occasion as that will not only serve at the inaugural Major League Soccer regular season match for the Chicago Fire when they take the pitch in Dallas to face FC Dallas, but also the first game in a Fire kit for Matador alum Daniel Paladini.

“Paladini is a smart, technical midfielder who has excelled with the Carolina RailHawks and will help improve our core of midfielders,” stated Frank Klopas, the Fire’s technical director shortly after Paladini was signed on January 11th.

News of the signing has excited the Fire faithful; last season for the Carolina RailHawks (U.S. Soccer Federation D-2 Pro League) Paladini scored seven goals, registered five assists, and was named to the USSF D-2 Pro League Best XI squad for the second time in his career. In addition to earning team Most Valuable Player honors, Paladini also finishes with a spot in the RailHawks record books having scored a total of 12 goals while wearing the orange and white.

“There were previous opportunities (in MLS), but after talking with (Fire coach) Martin (Rennie), I saw an opportunity to play games and believed it was pivotal to get the playing time and build my confidence on the field,” stated the former Matador.

Earning the levels of success needed to earn the attention of various MLS teams during his time in Cary, North Carolina, those closely associated are not surprised at the continual evolution of the midfielder’s professional career.

“I openly root for Daniel,” stated current Cal State Northridge men’s soccer head coach Terry Davila. “For as much as he has been through, he deserves this opportunity with the Fire, and I know he will make the most of this opportunity because his path to the pros has not been an easy one.”

Few who know Paladini will argue with Davila’s sentiments; like many of his collegiate peers who envision a career playing soccer professionally, only the special few are willing to invest the efforts needed to turn a dream into reality.

“Even on a supremely talented team, Daniel’s work ethic and discipline stood out from his peers in the Big West Conference,” Davila said. “Just look at the type of success both the team and he earned during his time at Northridge. The awards and numbers do not lie.”

Named Big West Midfielder of the Year in 2005, Paladini was named to three All-Big West teams – Honorable Mention in 2002, and the First Team in 2004 and 2005, and earned a spot on the All-Far West Region Second Team in 2005. Occupying numerous positions in a variety of record books; his 19 assists earned during his four seasons at Northridge (2002-05) rank him ninth all-time in the Big West and tied for tenth all-time in the CSUN record books, his 78 games played which rank him tied for fifth all-time at CSUN.

“All I wanted to do was work hard and help my team win,” stated Paladini. “Receiving all of those awards is an honor, and I am very grateful for everything that I have received.”

By taking a closer look at the trajectory of Paladini’s amateur career, one can witness the evolution of Paladini as a player as he continued to sharpen his skill set and develop his athletic potential for success.

As a freshman, Paladini competed in 17 games, starting on three occasions, and finished with two goals and four assists. Able to increase his numbers nearly across the board each and every season after that, he capped off an illustrious career at Northridge by starting in all 22 games he played in as a senior, found the back of the net seven times, earning three assists in the process.

Not only was Paladini able to earn the type of individual accolades every Division-I player hopes to accomplish, he was able to successfully utilize those annual performances to fuel the overall success of his team as his Matadors were able to advance to the NCAA playoffs all four years he was on campus.

With an amateur resume like the one he was able to craft, few were surprised when the Los Angeles Galaxy selected Paladini with the 24th overall selection in the 2006 MLS Supplemental Draft.

What was surprising was the way in which the Galaxy decided to utilize their homegrown talent. Finding playing time as a member of the reserve team for both the Galaxy and C.D. Chivas USA, the midfielder was eventually waived by the Galaxy at the end of the season.

“It was exciting competing against all of these top-level professionals. I realized that I could compete alongside them, I was just not able to see as much time on the field as I hoped,” explained Paladini.

Having worked so hard to reach the pinnacle of professional soccer in the United States, finding time on the two reserve squads but not on the first team of either, Paladini was faced with a decision that a number of working professionals often face during their respective career.

Do I continue making the necessary decisions to continue the pursuit of my dream, or should I find something else to do with my life?

With valid points to each option, Paladini found the courage the continue honing his craft as a budding professional athlete, and was willing to push his ego aside in the hopes of returning to the MLS at a later date.

Having briefly experienced life as a top-tiered professional during his stint with the Galaxy and Chivas, he returned back home to the Valley and began playing for the San Fernando Valley Quakes in hopes of regaining the attention of MLS personnel once again.

A member of the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League, he scored three goals in his 14 games played for the Quakes during the 2007 season and played a vital role in helping his team make the PDL playoffs.

With his scoring abilities, playmaking potential, leadership skills, and intangibles on full display while wearing a Quake jersey, Paladini signed with the Goats once again as a member of their developmental roster once again for the 2008 season.

Unlike his previous time with Chivas USA, Paladini’s hard work and consistent success as a reserve would eventually pay off as he stepped onto a MLS pitch as a member of the first team as a 68th minute substitute, making his MLS debut on May 11, 2008.

As exciting as that day may have been for Paladini, another personal milestone would take place just a few months later when he scored his first MLS goal on September 6th in the 41st minute at Toronto FC en route to a 3-1 Chivas victory.

“That game was something that I will never forget,” said Paladini. “And the best part of that whole night was the fact that we won the game. I scored my first MLS goal, we left the field with a win, and could not have asked for anything more.”

After nearly making his professional dream a reality during his first opportunity with the Galaxy and Chivas, Paladini took full advantage of his second opportunity with the Chivas. Using each of his five starts and eight appearances as his primary method of validating Chivas’ decision, the midfielder more than held his own against his MLS peers during his 438 minutes of playing time that season.

By paying his dues for years, continuing to make the sacrifices needed, and spending the necessary time to further develop his skills, Paladini had finally earned the first to wear a MLS jersey as a member of his club’s first team. Each time he took to the pitch for Chivas, he continued to further reward his organization for having enough faith to bring him back to their roster.

Which is why the next chapter in Paladini’s professional career puzzled many as his second opportunity with Chivas USA was short lived as the club decided not to extend another contract to the former Matador.

It was during this period of time where the character and drive that Paladini possessed was severely tested.

After making the developmental roster of the Galaxy and Chivas after being drafted in ’06, Paladini never did have the opportunity to compete with the first team. With this goal as his primary motivator, it took nobody by surprise when the midfielder continued to keep his sights firmly set on earning a first team spot one of the MLS’ 14 rosters.

When that goal came to fruition during his second stint with Chivas during the ’08 season, many soccer pundits felt that his promotion to the first team would become a permanent one.

Only four years removed from Northridge, Paladini had found himself at a professional crossroads; as was the case ’07, he could choose to find an opportunity to continue playing soccer professionally in the hopes of making his professional dream a reality, on a more permanent basis this time, or choose to end his professional playing career and pursue a secondary profession.

Falling just short of his ultimate goal in his first opportunity, with his dream cruelly teased in his most recent stint in the MLS, would anyone blame Paladini for deciding not to return to the field? After all, he did earn two opportunities to compete at the highest level of professional soccer – something 99.9% of soccer players of all ages in the United States would never even come close to achieving once in their lifetime, let alone twice.

In Paladini’s eyes, was there any other choice?

Perhaps it was that moment when Paladini truly became a professional as the time he invested on the pitch from this point on would make his previous efforts pale in comparison.

And this was from a man whose workouts and work ethic already mirrored the efforts of his established professional peers.

So once again, Paladini searched for an opportunity to prove himself once again, and earn the attention from professional scouts once again, in an attempt to earn another opportunity in the MLS once again. Only this time he would give his future employers no reason to leave him off their respective roster once again.

The next chapter of Paladini’s professional career would be written in a little-known suburb of North Carolina that lay in the heart of the state’s research triangle made famous by the proximity of Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina.

The Railhawks, one of 12 teams that comprised the United States Soccer Federations (USSF) Division Two Professional Team, wasted no time in signing Paladini to a contract as the organization felt that a talent of that level would surely field a number of requests from various clubs to continue his professional career with their respective team.

“I was not spending as much time as I wanted on the field when I was with Chivas, and wanted to become a better player. As was the case with the Quakes, the choice to play for Carolina was an easy one because they were willing to let me play. I just wanted to play and become the best player I could be and help my team win.”

By beating other teams to the punch, the Railhawks received instant credibility from their peers and a sizable infusion of talent to their roster. For Paladini, he found his medium in which he could fully display his potential and talents.

As was the case during his time with the Quakes, Paladini knew that his success, combined with the success of his team, would create the formula needed for everyone involved to achieve the level of success they so richly desired.

From day one, Paladini wasted no time in blending his talents with those of his teammates, with the organization itself earning the level of success that everyone had hoped once Paladini signed with the Railhawks.

During the next two years, the midfielder played a crucial role in the success of his team on the field. Known as both a defensive stalwart and facilitator of the Railhawk offense, the midfielder would appear in 57 games, score 10 goals, earn a spot in the League’s Best XI (an award similar to one the MLS bestows upon its best players), club MVP honors in 2009, and Offensive Player of the Year accolades in 2010.

Even if Paladini never made it back to the MLS, the CSUN alum had already crafted a successful playing career, earned enough individual and team success to make a name for himself and earn the respect of other players, coaches, and personnel on all levels of professional soccer.

By staying humble, working hard, keeping his ego under control, and investing the time and energy needed to not only make himself a better soccer player, but the teammates who surround him as well, Paladini built a professional career that he could not only be proud of, but one that a number of players would be more that satisfied and happy in possessing themselves.

 But if the previous years served as any indication, Paladini would just not be content with possessing the career he had worked so hard to build. Possessing the quiet confidence that can only be found in a rare group of individuals, there was still one more step that he needed to take from a professional standpoint.

On January 10, the Chicago Fire helped Paladini take that final step as they inked him to a deal that would enable him to compete as a member of their top squad.  

Explained Paladini, “my time spent with the Galaxy and Chivas was a great learning experience. If I ever returned to the MLS, I knew I wanted to become a part of the first team because I knew my opportunities would be limited if I allowed myself to join the reserve roster again. I am lucky because Chicago wanted me to be part of their main team, and I cannot wait to help them succeed as much as I can.”

“It may have taken him longer that many soccer fans and pundits would have expected, perhaps even longer than even Paladini would have wanted, but five years after leaving CSUN Paladini would finally make his professional dream a reality by trading in the Northridge red and black kit for a red, white, and blue one as the latest Matador alum to compete in MLS as a member of the Fire.

Saturday, March 19, 2011 may just be another Saturday to a majority of Americans, but to Paladini, that day has a deeper purpose as that will serve as the culmination of years of hard work, persistence, and sacrifice.

Regardless of age, everybody at one time of their life envision that one dream job they would like to possess when faced with the opportunity to craft their professional career. The reality is that very few possess the courage to truly pursue that dream, something that makes Paladini’s journey to the Fire’s roster that much more unique.

“When you find out all the setbacks this guy has faced, how can you not root for him to succeed?” asks Davila.

For the first time in his playing career, the former Matador is facing a set of challenges that are unique to his situation.

“It is cold here in Chicago!” Paladini said. “Since I lived in Southern California for most of my life, I am not use to walking outside, seeing piles of snow, and experiencing temperatures in the single digits. It is taking a little while to adjust, but it just makes my time here that much more exciting.”



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