Life of a former Matador: Paladini in MLS

Attention Northridge Community: You are about to embark on a 90-minute trek towards congested Los Angeles freeways to go to work. During your call of duty, you suffer through hacks at your shins, combat through cramps and fight through charlies while running as many miles as your fingers count. After sheer exhaustion, you’re just looking for a place to crash as family and a girlfriend wait back home.

This is not a rubric college athletes gravitate to in their years leading to the professional ranks, but Daniel Paladini of Chivas USA, a former CSUN soccer standout and now, a Major League Soccer employee, wouldn’t have it any other way.

‘I want to keep soccer in my life as long as I can,’ he said.

Over the 2008 MLS season, the up-and-coming 24-year old has evolved from a Chivas training camp invitee into a goal-scoring starting midfielder whose 2009 upside remains endless.

‘I’m very close,’ said Paladini, as he now waits for his playoff opportunity. ‘I worked my butt off this entire year and put in a lot of extra hours.’

By MLS rules, Chivas is allowed to carry 28 players, 18 of which are game-eligible and 10 for the reserve team. This year, Paladini has gone back and forth on both teams and now finds himself on the postseason active roster.

His rollercoaster ride includes a 180 degree shift from an offensive midfielder to a defensive one, at the request of the coaching staff.

‘He has an eye for the game, but that’s not the way he’s going to make it,’ Chivas’ Head Coach Preki Radosavljevic said of Paladini back in February. ‘He has to play both sides of the ball. For him, he has to figure out the defensive side of the game. Hopefully, he can.’

Indeed he has. Paladini has cashed in on the defensive presence called for by management and admitted he has now added variety to his repertoire on top of being the offensive-minded player he was at Northridge.

‘Anything Daniel puts his mind to, he’s going to do. He loves playing and he’ll do whatever it takes to get on the playing field,’ CSUN men’s soccer Head Coach Terry Davila said. ‘He’s a driven young man and he’s very motivated to get the best out of himself. (At Northridge) he was able to separate from any defender that was on him and that is a quality you cannot teach. He was not a role player. Players like him are impact players and they are hard to find.’

‘Everything is a lot simpler now,’ admitted Paladini, talking about his new role as a defensive stopper. ‘You try not to lose the ball in that position and you have to work hard. It’s something that has definitely helped my game out and I am still striving to get better at it.’

Davila said it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Northridge native with the daunted right foot and an eye for the net has had a smooth acclimation to his role on defense.
‘The guy is a special, special player,’ Davila said. ‘He’s a natural that gets himself in good areas on the field and makes plays and can change a game around by himself.’

During his days at CSUN, Paladini was essentially playing in his backyard, his town, and in 2005 he highlighted his career by scoring seven goals en route to being selected to the All-Big West First Team. He also won Conference Midfielder of the Year.

His offensive prowess was complimented by presumptive 2008 MLS Rookie of the Year Sean Franklin of the Los Angeles Galaxy. Both led the Matadors to their first-ever NCAA postseason victory and a trip to the Sweet 16 after knocking off UC Santa Barbara in the second round of the tournament, a game he says is a career highlight.

‘It was the most exciting game I ever played at CSUN,’ recalled Paladini, author of a goal in the 3-2 victory. ‘I wish we could have gone a little further in the tournament but we made the playoffs every year and I had a good time.’

‘Daniel was a big part of our success in 2005,’ added Davila, who won Co-Big West Coach of the Year the same season. ‘He was a go-to player and he took that in stride. We didn’t plan it that way but the team gravitated to him.’

As far as his ties to Northridge, that’s also in full operations as the communications major said he still talks to Davila and women’s soccer Head Coach Keith West, adding he was thankful for his scholarship opportunity and the chance to play in front of his family.

‘I learned a lot from those guys and I’ll always respect them and hope they do well,’ he said. ‘(Davila) was a great coach. I learned a lot from him and I enjoyed my time there.’

Paladini’s success at CSUN resulted in a 2006 fourth-round pick draft selection by Los Angeles’ other professional team, the Galaxy. He played five games for the reserve team before eventually getting cut. He then signed with the Premier Development League’s San Fernando Valley Quakes.

After scoring three goals and three assists in 14 games for the Quakes, Paladini set himself up with his Chivas ride for 2008 and beyond. He made his big-league debut in May as a substitute and went on to start five games while playing eight overall.

The long drives to Carson and time away from family finally paid off on Sept. 6 when Paladini netted his first goal in the MLS against Toronto FC.

‘It was pretty unbelievable,’ he said in hindsight. ‘I didn’t believe it at first because it happened so quick. Everyone was excited and when I went to dress, I had text messages and missed calls from everyone. It was a pretty cool feeling. I wish I would get more opportunities like that.’

But for now, Paladini will be playing the waiting game as the injury-depleted Chivas roster has recuperated just in time to finish the 2008 season. Although he was an eligible sub for Saturday’s 1-0 playoff loss to Real Salt Lake, he did not enter the game.

‘We had a lot of injuries and Preki gave me my shot and I held my own ground,’ he said. ‘I just hope I made a good enough impression on the coaching staff. If Chivas wants to keep me, obviously I want to stay here. It’s Los Angeles, I love the team, and the guys are awesome.’

Yet, the home-grown Paladini did not rule out the prospectus of playing outside L.A. county lines if he continues to ride the pine.

‘It’s nice to have my family and girlfriend close,’ he said. ‘It would be hard to go play soccer outside the country or even the states but the biggest thing for me next year is: I want to be playing somewhere. I don’t want to be a back up. I’m ready for someone to take a chance with me.’