By Sammie Hill–
Last year, the MLS drafted four seniors from the University of Louisville men’s soccer team. Louisville stood as the only college in the nation to have four players drafted, as well as the only school with three players selected in the first round. Furthermore, two of these Cardinals were selected in the top 10— defender Austin Berry and midfielder Nick DeLeon.
Throughout the past year, these two former Cardinals have excelled in the professional realm, establishing themselves as intense competitors and invaluable assets to their respective teams.
Nick DeLeon has thrived with DC United, serving as a fierce midfielder that craves, creates and capitalizes on scoring opportunities. Berry’s talent and versatility as a defender allow him to not only terminate advances from the opposition but also facilitate offensive attacks for the Chicago Fire.
Berry notes that the major differences between college and professional soccer lie in the speed of play, the physicality, the length of season and the lifestyle that accompanies the career.
“It just takes time to get used to,” Berry explained. “It’s your job to be prepared for training, and the game gets faster and more physical. The transition was definitely a challenge, but one I was ready for.”
On Saturday, Oct. 27, Berry will battle against DeLeon as their two teams meet in Chicago, Ill.
“It’s going to be fun,” Berry said of the upcoming match. “Nick’s a good buddy, and he’s someone I’ve kept in contact with. He’s done really well for his team this year. It’ll be a challenge because he is a good and talented player, but overall, it’ll be a fun experience.”
The MLS has recognized the extraordinary first-year performances of Berry and DeLeon, nominating both of them for the Rookie of the Year award.
“It would mean a lot to win the award,” said Berry. “It’s definitely a goal of mine, but team goals come first. So if I reach my goal, fantastic; if not, I’ll just have to keep focusing on making the playoffs which is our team goal.”
Berry revealed that his priority lies not in winning the award but in improving the quality of his play. From his perspective, winning Rookie of the Year would be a reflection of the hard work he has exerted this season to become the best player he can be.
“It’s not so much the award that matters but the player I am trying to be,” he stated.
Despite their success in the most elite soccer league North America has to offer, the two players remain grateful to the University of Louisville and its men’s soccer program, recognizing the impact it has made on their careers.
“It helped me in every way it could,” Berry said of his experience at U of L. “Coach Ken Lolla and the coaching staff… gave me guidance and molded me into the player I am today.”
The Chicago Fire will face DC United on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 4 p.m. Broadcasting on NBC Sports Network, the game will exemplify the caliber of these two former Cardinals who continue to make the U of L men’s
soccer program and the university as a whole proud.