Former Rio soccer standout inks pro contract
Rio Grande --- Former University of Rio Grande All-American soccer standout Paul Nicholson has moved on to a play-for-pay league, inking a contract with the United Soccer League's Wilmington (NC) Hammerheads.
Nicholson just completed his second season as a graduate assistant for the Rio Grande men's soccer program. He played for Rio Grande between 2005 and 2008. He was selected first team All-American in 2008 and first team All-American Mideast Conference.
Nicholson said he is fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing soccer at the professional level. "Growing up I always wanted to play professional soccer," said Nicholson. "Coming over here and playing in college, after my four years it really didn't work out, so thankfully I got the opportunity from (Rio Grande head coach) Scott (Morrissey) and (Rio Grande assistant coach) Tony (Daniels) to do a graduate assistant and luckily having played in the summer in the PDL (Player Development League) with the Portland Phoenix, it came about that Wilmington wanted to sign me and they've given me the opportunity to (play professionally). I can't wait to get down there."
Nicholson elaborated on how the process worked out for him. "Obviously I love to play soccer and after my four years playing for the university I went to playing in the PDL League, which is a summer league for college athletes and I went to Maine and played for the Portland Phoenix and the coach there was talking to the coach at Wilmington and pretty much said that they wanted to sign me and he got all that stuff sorted out for me, so that's how it really came about," Nicholson said. "Ever since then it's just been rolling and I'm just getting fit and getting ready for the season."
Rio Grande men's head soccer coach Scott Morrissey is extremely pleased about the opportunity that Nicholson is being afforded. "I think it's probably two years coming for Paul, seeing as how he finished off his senior year, we lose in the (NAIA) National Championship game and he goes to the MLS Combine," Morrissey said. "He's certainly the type of player that any professional organization would love to have."
"He's just a complete player, someone whose very, very dedicated and Paul's worked extremely hard to hold on to this opportunity and I'm very proud of the fact that it's happening for him," Morrissey added. "It's certainly a great feather in our cap, for the university, for the soccer program, but more importantly I'm most proud of the fact that it's happened for Paul."
While at Rio, Nicholson was named to the All Tournament team for the 2008 NAIA Tournament and was tabbed the tournament's Most Valuable Defensive Player. He was honorable mention All-AMC in 2007 and was on the second team in 2006.
For his career, Nicholson scored 17 goals and registered seven assists (41 points) in 83 career games. He was the only NAIA player to make the Major League Soccer (MLS) Combine List for 2009 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Nicholson, a native of Whitehaven, England, is the second player in Rio Grande history to make the illustrious list.
Nicholson commented on how playing at a school the caliber of Rio Grande has prepared him for a professional career. "It's helped me massively," he said. "There isn't much difference between the top teams in the NAIA and Division I teams in the NCAA and when I came here, obviously Scott and Tony have been in the game a long time, they know what they're doing, they really helped me improve."
"Coming to Rio Grande, which is one of the best colleges in the NAIA if not the country, with fantastic players, they really helped me improve," Nicholson added. "The coaches helped me improve, that's why I'm the player I am today. I can't thank them enough."
Nicholson played in the PDL in 2009 for the West Virginia Chaos and in 2010 for MPS Portland Phoenix where he played every minute and was named ‘Players, Player of the year'.
Nicholson played both defender and in the midfield while at Rio Grande, he has not talked with the Hammerhead organization as of yet to see where he may fit into their plans. "Obviously, I've spoke to them, but I haven't really spoke about where I fit in," he said. "I know the last two years I've played in the PDL, I've sort of started in the midfield and ended up moving back, to be honest I don't really care where I'm going to play, I mean I like to play midfield, but as long as I'm playing, that's all I want to do."
"I just want to play for them and see where it takes me from there," Nicholson added.
Morrissey believes that Nicholson could play both positions at the pro level. "I think he can, I know right now he's working really hard on fitness and fitness has always, probably been the biggest factor for Paul," he said. "I would think, not knowing the make-up of the Wilmington Hammerheads professional team, but I think Paul would probably be someone who is capable of playing a holding midfield role, depending on the type of formation and how they play. Maybe playing out of the back, but I think probably a holding role is a good spot for him."
"He's a great tackler, he reads the game extremely well, a very good ball winner and a good distributor of the ball," Morrissey added. "Depending on fitness level will probably dictate where he plays."
Morrissey equates the level of the USL to that of AA in baseball.
Nicholson will head out March 5th as the season runs from April to August. The team will play a 24-game schedule. Wilmington will play in Dayton, Ohio the final game of the regular season on August 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Fans will be able to chart the progress of Nicholson and the Wilmington Hammerheads on www.uslsoccer.com and www.wilmingtonhammerheads.com