Soccer truly is a global sport. Often times, professional players will see their careers take them to numerous locales, even having to relocate to many different countries. While a few are lucky enough to find long-term success in one spot, many find themselves moving from place to place, always trying to find that right spot.
For Louisville City captain Paolo DelPiccolo, that right spot was a return to where his career first took off.
"Denver's always going to be home," the former Louisville Cardinal midfielder said earlier this season when we sat down to chat. "But I love Louisville and I love living here; it is a second home."
DelPiccolo was a star for four years at the University of Louisville, setting the school record with twenty-three assists in his career, one that saw him help lead the team to the 2010 NCAA College Cup final. Having represented the United States at the Under-18 and Under-20 levels, he was a talented prospect. Despite being drafted in the first round of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, he chose to sign instead with Eintracht Frankfurt of the German Bundesliga. He would later join the Montreal Impact of the MLS, and then moved to the New England Revolution--all within eighteen months. Finally, he found some stability, spending the next two seasons with United Soccer League's Arizona United and Charlotte Independence. However, once the 2015 season ended, he decided it was time to join a different club.
"If you're playing in the USL, this is the place to be," DelPiccolo lamented about his decision to join Louisville City for their second season in 2016. "It was an easy decision to come here. As a player, and just like in any career, you want to keep going up and up and up. In the offseason when I wasn't getting up, I asked where was the best place to play, and that was Louisville City."
Until the club was founded three years ago, there was never a possibility to return to the city of Louisville. "When they first started the team, I was playing in Charlotte," he recalls. "I didn't know if the team would catch on. We occasionally at Louisville had gotten a few big crowds, the fans of other (UofL) teams would come out." However, as he saw what began to develop in the city, he was pleasantly surprised. "I was shocked. I didn't know we had so many actual soccer fans. It's been incredible. When I grew up in Colorado, everyone played soccer. Now, people here are just getting really big into soccer. It's just going to keep getting bigger here."
For DelPiccolo, soccer "was in my blood". The grandson of Italian immigrants, he grew up around the sport. His father played at UCLA, and Paolo was watching him play "as soon as I could walk." His grandfather was a goalkeeper, and played well into his seventies. He began playing as a youngster in Colorado, and played club soccer for Colorado Rush AS Monaco, where he caught the eye of Louisville head coach Ken Lolla.
"The first time I met Paolo, it was really clear that he had a strong passion for the game of soccer," Lolla recounted. "What was also evident in Paolo's play was his competitive spirit--and he hated losing." Anybody who has watched him play on the pitch for Louisville City knows that is true. He is quite vocal on the pitch, and his fiery demeanor is evident every time he goes in for a challenge. However, his teammates respect him, and he has proven that his desire to win does not prevent him from being a leader on the pitch.
"He's got a very good personality, great character," Louisville City manager James O'Connor said. "I think he's got good leadership skills in so much that he knows there are certain players he can shout at, and there are certain players he needs to put his arm around." Those characteristics led to DelPiccolo being given the captain's armband for the 2017 season. "We've got a few players who epitomize what we believe in, but we just felt with Paolo that he has an ability to communicate with all the players."
Coach Lolla echoes those sentiments. "There was a direct correlation to the rise in our program's success and Paolo's participation as a Cardinal," according to Lolla. "Paolo's impact as a player and a leader was significant. It is clear that he is having he same impact with Louisville City."
For the man known as "PDP", the captaincy was a huge honor. "Coach O'Connor told me just a few days before the first game," he said about learning that he would begetting the armband. "It's always special to wear the armband for any club, but especially Louisville, because I've been here before. It's my second home, so it's very special for me." He understands the significance of the role, and does not shy away from the responsibility; nor does he feel that he has to do everything himself. "Being a leader out there is something I've always been, even last year. It's easy to be the captain with a team like we have. Even having the armband, everyone is out there helping each other."
Paolo also credits both Lolla and O'Connor for helping become the leader that they now view him to be. "They're both great coaches," he said of the two very successful managers. "They both demand everything you've got. I've played for coaches who don't demand that, and that's not a place you want to be. That's why they're both so successful."
As much as he can be intimidating on the pitch, DelPiccolo is quite different when the matches are over. Whether it is signing autographs for fans, engaging with people in the community during charity events, or engaging with people on social media--where he will often let you know what he deems to be #PDPapproved -- he can often be found with a large grin and a playful demeanor. He has been very active in the community since returning last spring, something that the club is well known for. "I think it's hugely important (doing charity work)," he said. "It's a good experience for all of us. We enjoy getting out and giving back."
Even though he is no longer a member of the team, there is no debating that DelPiccolo is still a Cardinal. "I get down there whenever I can," he said of the program. "(Coach Lolla) still welcomes me with open arms every time I'm there, and we still chat about football and anything that comes up." One of the things that "came up" was the fact that Paolo still had not finished his degree. Thanks to Lolla, he realized that mission, when he graduated this past December. Lolla said he was "proud of (Paolo's) success in the classroom and his diligence to complete his degree while pursuing a pro career." For DelPiccolo, the praise goes both ways. "Getting my degree, that was huge, and (Lolla) always kept pushing me to do that, even after I was done playing for him."
Moving forward, DelPiccolo hopes to lead Louisville City to a place they've yet to go--the USL Cup finals. Last season saw the club fall to New York Red Bulls II in a penalty shootout in the Eastern Conference finals, so the drive to build on the pain of falling just short of the title is ever present. "We want to play beautiful soccer," he said, "but at the end of the day, we just want to win matches." He is doing his part, as he is among the leaders in the USL this season in successful long passes as he finds himself in a deep midfield play-making role. After being sent off a few weeks ago for a pair of yellow cards, DelPiccolo will resume his spot in the starting lineup on Wednesday night when Louisville City, currently near the top of the standings in the East, returns home to face Charlotte.
Whether he stays at Louisville City for the long-term, or realizes his goal of playing again in the MLS, it is clear that DelPiccolo's second home is truly where the heart is. "Soccer's funny," he says with a laugh. "I'd love to stay as long as they'll have me. I've enjoyed every place I've been, six teams in eight years. But I love Louisville and I love the (Louisville City) organization." It doesn't hurt that he has a strong support system already in place, headed by the man who helped shape him into the person and player he is today. "Professionally, I had a good four years at UofL, and Coach Lolla is a big reason for that, and a big reason for getting me where I am."
It's safe to say that for DelPiccolo, the city of Louisville is "PDP approved".