Graduating from college can always be a scary situation. For most of your life, you have had some kind of structure. Since kindergarten, you knew you were going to school – and there was a safety net in place.
Unfortunally, there is a time when a person has to grow up. All those years of studying looks like it is finally going to pay off. After four years of college you are ready for the real world. But, is the real world ready for you?
That’s the question.
For Alex De Carolis he had a plan for what he wanted to do when his college career was over. A standout for the Canisius College men’s soccer team, De Carolis always wanted to take the next step in his soccer career.
He knew he wanted to be a coach at some point when he got older, but first he wanted to see if he had what it took to be a professional soccer. A lofty goal for a young man coming out of a MAAC school. However, after a stint with the Seattle Sounders U23 team, De Carolis knew he could play at the next level.
“It was always my dream to play professional soccer. It wasn’t until the summer going into my junior season when I really dedicated myself to it,” stated De Carolis. “I played for the Seattle Sounders U23 and we came in third in the PDL. That season really showed me what it takes to be a professional and living the day to day in a professional environment.”
Being a professional, however, is a lot easier said than done. Everyone who plays sports in college would like to make it to the next level – but only a few do. Only a few has what it takes to make it to the next level. And, don’t think it all has to be on talent. A lot of players make it because of heart and determination.
They want it so bad that they will do anything to prove to people that can play the game they love. Let’s be honest, De Carolis knew he wasn’t going to make Major League Soccer or any of the bigger clubs right away.
He knew he was going to have to work his way up the latter like every other player, and coach. At this stage of his career, De Carolis was looking for a chance. He was looking for the one opportunity to show people what he has.
That opportunity came over seas of all the places. Playing in Europe is a soccer players dream. European football is the best on the planet – and getting a shot to play there showed De Carolis he had what it takes.
As De Carolis set out on this journey, he was looking for a place that would give him a chance to compete and move up. He knew he wasn’t going to start for a top team in the first division, but maybe a second division team would be good.
His soccer journey took him to Sweden, of all places. Sweden, who just knocked off Italy to get into the World Cup, is more known for hockey than soccer. But, the country is progressing and this seemed like a perfect opportunity for De Carolis to hone his skills.
“I have an Italian passport which allows me to live anywhere in the EU and I don’t take up an international spot. I entertained the Scandinavian countries for a team because many of those clubs have goals to promote players to higher levels,” stated De Carolis. “I was able to arrange a few trials with different squads through my agent. I absolutely love Sweden, the lifestyle and culture is 100 percent different then North America, it is way more relaxed, and stress free and the people are extremely nice.”
Like most athletes moving to a different place, the culture is something they all need to get used to. Soccer is soccer. Once you get on the pitch the game takes care of its self. But, living in a different country always has its issues.
One things De Carolis didn’t need to get used to is the weather. Being from Canada, and playing in Buffalo, De Carolis is used to the harsh winters that the Northeast and Canada can bring. So, living in Sweden when it comes to the weather wasn’t a big deal.
Getting used to the language and the food was a different story. Just getting used to a different culture can have its ups and down and wear on a personal mentally – especially when they are trying to make a living.
De Carolis, though, wouldn’t trade his experience for the world.
“Everything is different. The weather is the same as Canada, however, we are so far north,” ” stated De Carolis. “In the summers it is 20 hours of sun and in the winter it’s the opposite. The food and culture also takes time to adjust. But that’s all part of the excitement of being abroad and learning new cultures and beliefs.”
Learning is fun, that’s De Carolis kept telling himself. On the pitch, De Carolis plays a tough position – especially when you don’t know the language well. Being a defender is hard enough. Being a defender when you aren’t comfortable with the language yet makes the job that much tougher.
Besides learning the European game, De Carolis needed to learn a new language. While a lot of Swedish people do speak English, on the pitch it was a Swedish. So, for De Carolis to excel at his job, he needed to learn and learn quickly.
“Most Swedes speak English very well. However, I had to learn Swedish. I go to Swedish school during my days off,” stated De Carolis. “On the field my teammates only speak Swedish, so I had to learn fast. By middle of the year I would say I communicated in Swedish only. In my position I see everything so language is crucial. So that has been tough to learn a language on the fly. Also Swedish is one of the hardest languages to learn.”
His play on the field would suggest that De Carolis has been playing in Sweden for years. He was a stalwart on VSK. There he was coached by Johan Mjallby a former Swedish captain and legend, a former captain for Celtic, and coach for Celtic and Bolton in the English league.
“He was a center back. He worked with me a lot. He has played with the best in the world. And has taught me lots of tips,” stated De Carolis. “Simple things like body position and things that most players take for granted. At this level fitness and technique only takes you so far, the tactical side in the brain is the most important part. Especially in Europe.”
After the season, De Carolis and VSK signed a release clause making De Carolis a free agent. This gives him an opportunity to sign with any club. Rolling the dice is never easy – especially on your career. But, De Carolis is very confident that when one door closes another one will open up.
“I have a very good agent now and we are confident that I will have another option. He has been contacted by many teams in the same league, USA, and other abroad countries. Like I mentioned before my Italian citizenship opens up many other doors,” explained De Carolis. “I have dedicated myself over the last couple years, my nutrition habits have completely changed, and my fitness has always been my strong suit. Technically I have gotten a lot better also just by playing every day with quality players. However, I feel like tactically this season I became a better player, like night and day.”
People have been writing off De Carolis it seems ever since he started to kick around a soccer ball. They would say that he would never make in the states – or even play Division I soccer. Now he is here playing professionally and proving everyone wrong.
De Carolis is proving that if you work hard and believe in yourself that the sky is the limit for anyone. It just takes a little belief – and that goes a long way.
“As far as advice I would say just never give up the grind as cliche as that is. I had people saying I would never make it in USA , then never make it DI, PDL, a top PDL team then professional. But I always kept at it,” stated De Carolis. “I know what my strengths and weaknesses are as a player and maturity and mental toughness has looked past it all. If it’s something you truly want to do, you have to sacrifice everything. In my case I lost a lot of social events, missed out being with friends, have been away on summers, didn’t make much money last year. But it’s sacrifices like that, that will make you be where you want. Now I’m at an amazing level and I’m enjoying all the sacrifices that paid off.”