By Shaun Chornobroff
Florian Valot had a successful soccer career at Rider. The French midfielder accumulated 13 goals and six assists in 34 games.
Valot made his debut for the Broncs in 2014, and nearly six years later he finds himself among some of the best in the world, playing for the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer (MLS). But it is a career that Valot did not expect to happen.
Valot’s last game at Rider was a loss in the NCAA tournament, and he thought it would be his last competitive game.
“I was about to quit soccer after my senior year, I was not gonna go and try out professionally,” Valot said during a phone call with The Rider News. “I was just going to finish my degree and go back to France.”
“I was kind of tired of it, my last season was kind of tough, physically. I had a lot of injuries and I was like maybe it was the right time to stop, maybe this means my body can’t handle it anymore. I wasn’t having much fun at the end because I was always hurt,” Valot said.
As he was heading toward graduation, Valot got an offer to try out for the Red Bulls and thought “why not go and see how it is?”
Valot was brought on as a trialist in March 2016, but did not officially sign with the Red Bulls for over four months. But Valot was the one who wanted to wait to sign, not the team.
“They told me early March they wanted to sign me, but I wanted to finish my degree first,” Valot explained. “As soon as I finished my degree they signed me to a USL contract.”
The United Soccer League (USL) is a lower division of American soccer and MLS teams will often set up affiliates, similar to a minor league team, in the USL. This allows younger players to get playing time and develop in hopes of them playing in the MLS one day.
In Valot’s first professional campaign with Red Bulls II, the New York Red Bulls USL affiliate, the team went on to win the USL championship, with Valot playing 17 of 30 regular-season games and each one in the playoffs. Valot was tied for the team lead in assists despite not playing until after he signed his contract.
Valot built on his success during his second season. He scored 10 goals and seven assists in 32 matches and was a nominee for USL player of the month in September 2017.
“It felt good to play a full season,” Valot said, but admitted his body was not fully in sync.
Valot’s good performances were rewarded with a “dream come true,” a promotion to the MLS.
“A lot of people would love to be in my shoes,” Valot said. “I had to put the work in and be worthy of the opportunity.”
Valot was an immediate contributor for the Red Bulls starting 13 matches of 14 matches he played in the 2018 season, and contributing three goals and five assists in his first MLS season. He seemed to be in the midst of a breakout season until an ACL tear in his right knee ended it prematurely.
“It was hard, you’re having a good season, you get hurt, and you don’t know what your future’s going to be like,” Valot said of the injury. “You just go on with your life, and try to do the right things with your life, you try to have the right mentality.” https://twitter.com/florian_valot/status/1016084035175510016
Even though he had almost left the game due to injuries in the past, Valot did not have that thought this time.
“It was a different environment, it was a different setup, I was under contract with the team,” Valot said. “I didn’t think it was a good thing to give up, so I thought ‘let’s work hard and see how I can come back.’”
Valot described his recovery as “a motivation to get back out there.”
Which he eventually did, starting the game and recording an assist in the 2019 season opener against the Columbus Crew. But 35 minutes into the second game, tragedy struck Valot again, as he tore his ACL again, this time in his right knee.
At this point, Valot felt the injury was business as usual.
“I thought, ‘I’m gonna do this another time,’” Valot said of his second ACL tear. “I believe everything happens for a reason, so there wasn’t much I could say or do, I just had to work.”
Valot came into the 2020 season “physically and mentally ready.” He had spent a lot of time preparing and there was “no reason it should go wrong.”
Valot shined in the season opener on March 2, providing two assists in a win against FC Cincinnati.
“It’s rewarding, work paid off, I was more happy we won the opener than having two assists, but it was just the cherry on the cake,” Valot said, but his star performance also led to him being named to the MLS Team of the Week. “It came as a surprise, I wasn’t targeting this, but it made the day even better.”
Sadly, Valot’s season went wrong — this time not due to injury, but the coronavirus. The MLS originally suspended play for 30 days on March 12, but on March 18 it extended the suspension to May 10. And it seems unlikely things will be back before then.
Valot knows there’s not much he can do during the virus and is “trying to stay fit” so that he is ready to play once the league returns.
Before starring with the Red Bulls, Valot was a star at Rider.
Valot was one of the best players in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), winning rookie of the year in 2014 in addition to being named First Team All-MAAC in both seasons. He won a conference title in 2015, his senior season, assisting the clinching goal in the MAAC Championship game and helping to ensure a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Valot first heard of Rider after competing in a two-day combine that put foreign players in front of collegiate scouts. After a good performance in the combine, Valot started receiving offers and committed to a school.
“Rider was not my first option,” Valot admitted. “I committed to another school.”
Valot had originally committed to the University of North Carolina and a two-time national champion. But he would never play for the Tar Heels.
“[North Carolina] said to me ‘we don’t think you have enough credits to attend the school. So we’re gonna give your scholarship to somebody else,” Valot said. After he decommitted, Valot was adamant about playing in America, and he had one option left.
“Rider was the last DI school I could actually attend,” Valot explained. “ I wanted to leave France, I wanted to do this journey, and that’s why I went to Rider.”
Despite not intending to go to Rider, Valot still thinks fondly of his time in Lawrenceville.
“It played a big part of where I am today,” Valot said. “I made lifetime friends over there, and I will always be thankful.”
Valot admits it may have been destiny that he ended up at Rider instead of North Carolina.
“Everything happens for a reason, and maybe if I went to another school I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Valot said.
Even though it was unintended, it’s fair to say Valot is still proud to be a Bronc.