Former LA Galaxy defender and Tampa Bay Rowdies captain Julian Valentin enjoyed a three year career as a professional soccer player before retiring in 2011. Before that, he led Wake Forest to to their first NCAA National Championship title in 2007. He managed to play for various youth US National Teams, including the U-20 team that competed in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, but never received a call up for the senior national team. Valentin answered some questions regarding his past as a professional soccer player, his best memories and regrets, and about the possibility of playing for Puerto Rico.
What is the most important aspect a young aspiring soccer player should do?
Julian Valentin: For a young aspiring soccer player to maximize his or her ability, they must make a serious commitment to work hard every single day. There are many talented players around the world, but at the highest level it is hard work, advanced technical ability, tactical awareness, and the ability to process the game quickly that separates players. All of those things can be improved over time, through hard work and dedication. Be the first one on the field and the last one to leave. Watch games and study the best players in the world. Eat right and prepare your body in between sessions. These things are all forms of hard work and commitment, and players can always improve.
What is the most memorable memory you have as a former player?
JV: I was very blessed to have played the game at a high level and I have so many great memories of my time as a soccer player. I had the opportunity to travel the world and see places I never could have dreamed of without having soccer carry me there. Representing the U.S. in the U-20 World Cup in Canada is something I will always remember fondly. In that tournament I had the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world (Alexis Sanchez, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Erwin Hoffer, Jo, David Luiz, Pato, etc.). We made it to the quarterfinals of the tournament and lost a tough game to Austria, knocking us out of the tournament. Big crowds and great competition. I remember playing in front of huge, loud crowds in Busan, South Korea, against Javier Pastore and Gonzalo Higuain. As a member of the LA Galaxy, I played in Auckland, New Zealand alongside David Beckham and Landon Donovan in front of 60,000 fans against Edgar Davids. And I remember winning a National Championship in college. I have so many great memories of my time in the game, all of which are very special with teammates who were, and still are, great friends.
What do you remember most of playing against the Puerto Rico Islanders when you played for the Rowdies?
JV: When I was playing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies I used to love traveling to Puerto Rico to play the Islanders. It was by far my favorite road trip. I always had family, friends or acquaintances at the games and I enjoyed playing in front of the Puerto Rican fans – I always felt like I had a connection with the fans, even when they were yelling at me. I liked the stadium in Bayamon; it was an intimate feel. Before games, I enjoyed walking around Old San Juan or finding a remote beach somewhere to relax in the shade. I always love spending time in Puerto Rico. I love recalling my childhood visits trapping salamanders in Caguas and collecting mangoes in Ponce.
If you ever had the opportunity to play for Puerto Rico, would you have done it? Why or why not?
JV: When Colin Clarke was coaching Puerto Rico, I was asked several times to play for the Puerto Rican National Team but I never accepted the invitation. Coming through the U.S. Youth National Team system, including two years at the Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., I always had aspirations to represent the United States at the highest level; that was my dream since I was a kid. And for a while, I think I was pretty close. As such, I did not want to commit to Puerto Rico in the hopes I would someday earn a U.S. call-up if I continued to work hard and was awarded the opportunity. Of course that never did happen before I decided to retire from professional soccer to settle down with my family.
In retrospect, I wish I would have accepted the invitation to play for Puerto Rico. I have a strong connection to Puerto Rico; its culture is part of who I am and who I’ve always been. I feel like I could have helped take the national team program to the next level and help build the team. While I don’t play professionally anymore, I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life, and still just 27 years old. I have fresh legs and would gladly accept a call to play for Puerto Rico now…if they still want me!
Do you think that Jurgen Klinsmann might call your brother for the US National squad? If not, do you think Zarek might consider representing Puerto Rico?
JV: Zarek is currently recovering from an Achilles tendon injury and he is just focused on getting back on the field. Zarek and I have never discussed the possibility of him representing Puerto Rico, but I do know he has aspirations to play for the United States in a World Cup someday. Klinsmann likes technical players with good tactical sense and versatility, all qualities that Zarek possesses. Once he fully recovers from his injury and returns to top form at his club in Norway, I absolutely believe he has the ability to put himself in the mix for a call-up to the U.S. National Team.