Sunday, July 5, 2015

Catching up with Tony Donatelli

Tony Donatelli was one of the top players in Temple history during his college career. He's now playing with the second-division Montreal Impact, and is making his way up the professional ranks as the team prepares to join Major League Soccer.

Catching up with Tony Donatelli

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Another post to get us from now until the next Union game on Saturday. Before we get to it, I suspect you might like to know what I think of the Justin Mapp deal. I think it's fantastic - Mapp is good enough to be a starter. I'm surprised the Union pulled off the deal, though the Fire clearly want a second Designated Player and were willing to make a big trade to get the necessary money. I also wonder, though, if this is a sign that Shea Salinas won't be back for a while because of his broken ankle.

On the whole, adding Mapp (and Eduardo Coudet) gives the Union an impressively deep midfield. You could come up with a huge number of possible combinations of forwards and midfielders to put in a lineup. It will be very interesting to see who Peter Nowak starts on Saturday and beyond.

And now, on with the show...


MONTRÉAL - I mentioned before I went on vacation that I was going to surprise you when I got back with a post from my travels. It turned out that on the same weekend the Union hosted Toronto FC, I was in another soccer-mad Canadian city talking to a Philadelphia-area native who makes his home north of the border.

If you've followed college soccer around here over the last decade, or if you're a Temple alum of relatively recent vintage, you might have heard the name Tony Donatelli before. Every once in a while, I get an email from someone asking if I've heard anything about Donatelli's whereabouts. Well, I finally have. I talked to Donatelli in person last week at Saputo Stadium, where the Montréal Impact hosted Crystal Palace Baltimore in a U.S. Soccer Second Division matchup.

Here's the backstory on Donatelli's career. After growing up in Glenside and playing youth soccer for the famed FC Coppa club, he played four years of varsity soccer for the Owls. Donatelli was the Philadelphia Soccer Seven's player of the year in 2005 - the Soccer Seven schools are the City Six plus Philadelphia University - and is one of four players tied for the Temple career assists record with 20. He also held the single-season assists record with nine (in 2004) until current Union player J.T. Noone broke the mark with 13 in 2008.

Donatelli launched his career beyond North Broad Street when he joined the PDL's Ocean City Barons for two years, 2004 and 2005. College players are allowed to play in the PDL while undergraduates because they don't get paid. In 2006, Donatelli began a three-year stint with what was then the A-League's Vancouver Whitecaps, spending summers out west and winters playing for the MISL's Philadelphia Kixx. That's about as wide a spectrum as you can get in the game.

Midway through the 2008 season, Donatelli came back east. He moved from the Whitecaps to the Montréal Impact, and has been there ever since. Now, as the Impact get ready to join Major League Soccer in 2012, Donatelli has emerged as one of the team's better players. He's ready to make the move up to the top level with his club.

"I think that's everybody's dream to play at the highest level," Donatelli told me. "If I'm still around, I hope I can be one of the guys."

Although the Impact play in the second division of the North American soccer pyramid, everything about the club's setup is first-class. Saputo Stadium seats around 13,000 fans, and regularly draws full houses. The facility is nestled on a hill right next to Montréal's famous Olympic Stadium and tower, which provides a dramatic view for fans in the Ultras Montréal supporters' club.

A number of Impact games are broadcast on Radio-Canada television, the French-language version of the CBC. There are also radio broadcasts in English and French, the latter on the same sports radio station that carries Canadiens hockey games.

"I feel like it's the best club you can get in the second division right now," Donatelli said. "There's a lot of excitement around the club and the city has really embraced it. We have a lot of support right now, as you can see, so it's only going to be bigger when we go to MLS in two years."

It probably won't surprise you to learn that there's already a season-ticket deposit booth set up by the stadium entrance. Saputo Stadium will be expanded to 20,000 seats by 2012, and there's every reason to think that those seats will be filled.

If that happens, it will be good for Major League Soccer and good for the sport in Canada. The country hasn't qualified for a World Cup since 1986, but the national team is improving and there's lots of attention paid to the World Cup and major international clubs.

So far, things have gone well. Toronto FC regularly draws full houses to BMO Field, and Vancouver will move up to MLS next year. Then Montréal will join the fold, meaning that Canada's three biggest cities will have clubs at the top of the ladder.

"With three teams coming to MLS and the expansion to Edmonton in the second division, there's a lot of buzz around the sport," Donatelli said. "So hopefully the growth continues."

As Donatelli looks forward to the future, he still has fond memories of the past - especially his time with the Kixx.

"It was tough on the body, but I was young at the time, so I was able to get through it," Donatelli said of playing both indoor and outdoor soccer. "It takes a little bit of adjusting, going from one to the other - a week or two - but I enjoyed playing at home in front of my family and friends."

Coincidentally, Donatelli's parents were at the same game I was at. While their son has picked up a bit of a Québecois twang in his voice, Theresa and Greg Donatelli's accents are straight out of Glenside.

"Coming around to see him has been a great thrill," Theresa told me. "We feel it really shows that he's worked hard and he does something he loves, and it's great for our family."

Tony Donatelli isn't the only soccer player in the family. His father, Greg, played at the amateur level with the United German-Hungarians in Oakford, Pa. That club is one of the most prestigious in Pennsylvania, with a history of success in the U.S. Open Cup and other amateur competitions.

"Now it's time to watch [Tony] play, and I can relax," Greg quipped.

Greg admitted that he'd like to be able to watch his son play in Philadelphia, but he and his wife are fine with the traveling. He's retired, and she works at a doctor's office.

"Wherever he goes, we'll try to get out there on our vacations," Greg said. "Last year they were on Fox Soccer Channel a lot, and now they're on the computer, so you can watch every game."

As of now, there are not all that many Philadelphia-area natives playing in American (or Canadian) professional soccer. Everyone knows about Bobby Convey and Chris Albright, and some may have heard of Donatelli and Jeff Parke, a Drexel alum. This year, J.T. Noone joined the Union, and Villanova grad Michael Seamon has done quite well with the Seattle Sounders. But beyond that, there isn't much.

The relative lack of pro talent from our region is even more glaring given this area's long history of strong youth soccer programs. The lineage goes from modern powerhouses like FC Delco and FC Coppa to the Lighthouse Boys Club in Kensington in the 1920s.

But for many years, those kids didn't have a team of their own to look up to. Now they do. Among the many ways the Union can impact the community is to show young players that they, like Tony Donatelli, can make it in professional soccer soccer player some day.

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