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September 11, 2012
UofL senior midfielder Paolo Del Piccolo was pretty much born with a soccer ball attached to his foot. His earliest soccer memory came at the age of 3 when he traveled with his father, Aldo Del Piccolo, to watch him play in an amateur soccer game.
Paolo knows a memory from when he was 3 is quite unusual, but he believes this was the first moment where the love for the game was shared between father and son.
"I'm warming up with him (Aldo) and we're just kicking it back and forth and what not," Paolo said. "I think that, from what I can remember, is the first time I realized how he loved playing soccer with me, and I loved playing soccer with him."
But the lineage of soccer in the Del Piccolo family wasn't a mere father-to-son passing of the torch, it began a generation before that with Paolo's grandfather, Mario Del Piccolo.
Mario was born in Italy and moved to Arvada, Colo., with his wife. They had six children, including Aldo. Mario was a goalkeeper throughout his career and passed on his soccer genes to all six of his children, all of whom played.
All six children were solid players, but Aldo stood out among his siblings. So much that he received a scholarship to play for UCLA.
"He (Aldo) grabbed a bike and a suitcase and headed to L.A.," Paolo said of his father.
After four years at UCLA, Aldo returned to Colorado and continued his career in an amateur league, playing for the Sons of Italy. Today, an amateur soccer league would be looked at as a lower level of soccer, but in those days it was the best soccer in the United States.
For the next decade Aldo played amateur soccer based out of Colorado. Along with the Sons of Italy, Aldo competed for another team called the Oshea Eagles.
Aldo's family then moved to a suburb of Denver called Wheat Ridge. Aldo became the president and coaching director of a small soccer club called the Wheat Ridge Avalanche.
The Avalanche would become Paolo's first organized soccer experience under the tutelage of his father.
"I think we knew (Paolo) was going to be a soccer fan when his mom would put him, at age 3, in front of a World Cup soccer match (on TV) to get him to take a nap," Aldo said. "Not only would he stay awake and watch the entire match, but he would watch it again with me and tell me when and how the goals were scored before they would happen."
Paolo was not pressured down a path to play soccer by any means. He was into basketball and ice hockey along with soccer growing up. But it was almost unquestionable that at some point the soccer that ran through his veins would take over.
"I was always going to play soccer," he said.
THE COLORADO RUSH
As Paolo grew older he began to focus more on the game that he loved. His skill at soccer began to earn notice from others around the state. He was invited to play as a guest player for another youth team called the Colorado Rush.
After playing well during his guest stint, Paolo was invited to play for the Rush fulltime but opted to play one last season with his father and the Wheat Ridge Avalanche instead. However, Paolo knew his future was with the Rush.
"It wasn't cutting it," Paolo said of his local team. "The kids (in Wheat Ridge), they didn't really care about going to practice."
The right move for Paolo's career would take him away from his father's coaching, but the history and respect that the Del Piccolo family had in Colorado would keep father and son on the same field for a little while longer.
"Anybody that has played soccer in Colorado for the last 50 years knows the Del Piccolos," said Paolo. "Del Piccolos and soccer are just huge out there."
While most other parents were being discouraged from interfering with Rush practices, Aldo was being encouraged to give his input and help out.
"(The Rush coach) told my dad to come in and sit on the sidelines, help us out," Paolo said. "He became kind of like an assistant coach."
The move Paolo made to play for the Colorado Rush turned out to be an excellent one. The Rush has expanded to around 30 different clubs in the U.S. and about 10 more clubs in five countries. As of today there are 40,000 kids who play under the umbrella of Rush soccer, with it all beginning in Colorado.
Legendary soccer coach Tim Schulz became Paolo's coach as he moved up the ranks in the Rush organization. In 2000 Schulz became the CEO and president of Rush soccer. In 2005, he was hired to be the coach of the U-20 U.S. women's national team.
Moving from being coached by his father to being coached by Schulz didn't distract Paolo from his ultimate goal, professional soccer.
"There has never been a time that I've said I'm not going to be a professional soccer player," Paolo said. "That's always been what I'm going for. People were practicing, but my Dad and I would go kick the ball later."
Under the continued direction of his father and Schulz, Paolo's game began receiving national recognition. At age 16 he got a call from the U-18 U.S. National Team. He was one of 72 players invited to participate in the national-team tryout in Florida. At the same time the U-20 National Team was practicing in Florida to get ready for a tournament in Mexico.
At the end of the U-18 tryout, the coaching staff decided they wanted the U-18 team to scrimmage against the U-20 team in a tuneup match before it traveled to Mexico. The coaches selected the best 22 players from the U-18 tryout, and Paolo got the word that he had been selected to participate in the scrimmage.
Paolo shined in one of the biggest moments in his young career, and at the age of 16 was asked to accompany the U-20 National Team to Mexico. Paolo immediately called his current Rush coach at the time, Erik Bushey, to break the news.
"I called Bushey and said, 'Bushey, I think I just got called into the Under 20s,'" Paolo said.
Paolo followed that phone call with one to his parents, explaining to them he wouldn't be returning home quite as early as he had expected. "I called my Mom and Dad and said, 'I know I'm supposed to come home tomorrow, but I'm actually going to Mexico for two weeks."'
Paolo set off to Mexico with the U-20 National Team. He didn't play as well as he would have liked there, but he was just a 16-year-old kid playing against much older and more developed competition. However, because of his overall production, he was selected to play for the U-18 National Team and got to travel to places like Portugal and Ireland to compete for his country.
THE FAMILY GAME
When Paolo was 12, the Del Piccolo family was able to do something most soccer families could only dream of. Aldo decided to rent a house in the mountains in which the entire Del Piccolo family would squeeze into. The idea behind getting the family together was to create a Del Piccolo soccer team that would play together against outside competition. The team was called The Three Generations (3Gs.) and was led by Paolo's grandfather, Mario, in goal. The rest of the team consisted of uncles, cousins, a few close family friends, and the father-son combination of Aldo and Paolo. Just going by names, the 3Gs were nothing short of an Italian powerhouse. Renzo, Guido, Lio, Marco, Nico, Dino, and Dario were among those who made up the rest of the squad. And the coach of the Del Piccolo tribe was Paolo's great uncle Luciano.
"The Three Generations team was an amazing time," Aldo said. "My father [Mario] was an incredibly strong and healthy keeper through his 60s and played his last game with the 3Gs a month before he turned 72.... It was an experience of a lifetime for us."
But this wasn't a team put together to play in a few recreational games. The 3Gs actually competed in an amateur league, playing against other competition. To say the least, the DelPiccolo team was something special.
His experience gained through the Wheat Ridge Avalanche, the Colorado Rush, the U-18 National team and the famous 3Gs prepared Paolo for his soccer career at the University of Louisville under coach Ken Lolla.
As a freshman he was selected to the Big East All-Rookie team, along with being chosen by Soccer America as a second-team freshman All-American. As a sophomore he earned third-team All-Big East honors and helped the Cardinals reach the NCAA national championship game, and as a junior he led the team to an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Paolo has started all four years and is less than a year away from his dream of professional soccer. At the beginning of this season he received the distinct honor of being mentioned by topdrawersoccer.com as a potential Major League Soccer (MLS) draft pick in December.
Paolo's ultimate dream is to return to his family's homeland and play professional soccer.
"My ultimate goal is to play in Italy," he said. "That's where I want to play eventually. Now how I get there, I don't know."
Likely someone in his family knows the way.