February 23, 2015

Trinity's Matt Cardone on trial with Orlando City

By Ryan Harmanis

Matt Cardone (back row, 2nd from left) in preseason with Kaká (back row, 2nd from right) and MLS debutant Orlando City SC.

Most young athletes dream of one day making it to the professional stage. Goalkeeper Matt Cardone, from Division III’s Trinity University (Texas), is living out that dream. Matt has gone from the NCAA tournament to facing former FIFA World Player of the Year Kaká in six short months. A two-time First Team NSCAA All-American, Cardone capped an incredible career by leading Trinity to the Elite Eight last fall. Now, he’s making the transition to the professional ranks while enjoying preseason as a trialist with MLS expansion team Orlando City SC.

For nearly all college athletes, and particularly for Division III players, a professional career is simply not in the cards. Cardone, however, is not your typical college athlete. “His size and athleticism are striking at first glance,” according to Trinity head coach Paul McGinlay. Cardone echoes those sentiments, citing his “combination of size, shot stopping ability, and communication” as strengths in goal. Checking in at 6’-3” and 215 pounds, Cardone compares physically to world-class keepers such as Germany’s Manuel Neuer and the United States’ own Tim Howard.

At 6’-3” and 215 lbs, Cardone can be a physically imposing presence.

Beyond physical abilities, Cardone has combined his talent with hard work and opportunity to seize his chance. Blessed with “incredibly fast feet for a big man,” as McGinlay put it, Cardone quickly built a towering reputation for one of Division III’s powerhouse programs. However, coming from Division III, Matt faces unique challenges in perception and increased competition. “At this level, every goalkeeper is talented,” said Cardone, “so I need to continue to perform at a high level day in and day out.”

Player and coach spoke of the path for a Division III player to be successful professionally. McGinlay, for his part, sees exposure as a major roadblock. MLS scouts don’t watch Division III, leaving the MLS combine—notoriously difficult for DIII players to receive an invite—and PDL programs as primary points of access. Beyond that, getting an invite to preseason is a Division III player’s best chance. In that respect, coaches can take on a leading role. As Cardone put it, “[Coach] McGinlay has been a fantastic mentor to me. He works hard to give his players the opportunity for success. [He] worked hard to get me into a professional club and I was fortunate to get a chance here in Orlando.”

Now that he’s received an opportunity, Cardone rejects the notion of a Division III stigma, maintaining “[t]he only thing that matters to coaches and teammates is whether you can perform on the field, regardless of where you came from.” You would hope that holds true, but could be forgiven for imagining professional players and coaches looking down at the Division III level. In that respect, Cardone has the luxury of following former Trinity players who established a reputation at the professional level. Lance Key (2000, drafted by Colorado Rapids), Kyle Altman (2008, drafted by New England Revolution, captained Minnesota to NASL championship), and several others blazed a path so that future Trinity (and Division III) players, like Cardone, have a real chance at the professional level.

Cardone, a two-time NSCAA All-American, helped Trinity (Tx.) reach the Elite 8 last fall.

Going forward, Cardone is adjusting to the demands of the professional game. While there is an undeniable “step up in intensity,” Matt feels that “once you step on the field you switch on and you’re focused on doing your job.” As for aspiring Division III players (or recruits) searching for a chance to play professionally? Having helped numerous players get their shot, Coach McGinlay references “controlling the controllables: attitude, concentration, work ethic, honest reflection, deliberate practice; there are tried and trusted methods of getting better, but none of them involve taking any shortcuts.” Unsurprisingly, Cardone takes a similar view as his former coach: “Take it one step at a time and make the most of the opportunities you find yourself in. Be willing to make sacrifices so you can be successful in something you are passionate about.”

Matt made a pair of impressive saves for Orlando as a second half substitute in their preseason opener a few weeks ago, and despite goalkeeper being considered a position of strength and depth for the MLS debutants, he remains on trial as preseason enters its final two weeks. D3soccer.com and the Division III community wish Cardone the best for the remainder of preseason with Orlando City SC and hope to provide future updates as his professional career truly takes off.


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