Louisville midfielder Nick DeLeon, D.C. United’s first-round draft pick, arrived this week in Washington – the city where his father LeRoy DeLeon, a striker, toiled for the NASL’s Darts (1970-71) and Diplomats (1974-77).
The elder DeLeon, a native of Trinidad & Tobago, was among the first wave of international players to reach American shores when the NASL launched in 1967. He played 16 years in U.S. leagues, the final four with the MISL’s Phoenix Inferno. His best outdoor season was in 1970 with 15 goals in 20 matches for the Darts. With the Dips, he posted 18 goals and 11 assists in 50 games.
Nick, 21, was born in Arizona, seven years after his father’s career ended. I caught up with the DCU prospect at RFK Stadium on Thursday afternoon:
Did you have any inclination that United was going to draft you?
“I had no idea. I talked to the coaches at the [MLS] combine, but I didn’t get the impression they were going to select me.”
So you came straight here from Louisville after attending the draft in Kansas City?
“I had my stuff packed already. I knew I was going to go somewhere right away for training camp. It was just a matter of where. Nine-hour drive by myself.”
How was the ride?
“Not bad. I was fine, and then I got to D.C. on Saturday night and it went down the tubes. The streets are too confusing. I couldn’t see the signs. I was just driving circles in D.C.”
Did you graduate early from Louisville?
“I have 30 hours left. I’m a sports administration major. I want to pick them up slowly and take some online classes, but right now this is my priority.”
Did you have overseas options?
“I wanted to be in MLS for the first few years, develop my professionalism and then eventually I want to go overseas.”
You are a versatile attacking player, but do you have a best position?
“I’d say outside on the left in midfield. I just like it because when you cut inside, since I’m right-footed, I can bang on the ball all day.”
What do you think you bring to D.C. United?
“I love to get forward and I bring my hard work to the game – working behind the ball, working when you don’t have the ball, working when you have it. Hard work is something Ben [Olsen] preached when I met him at the combine.”
You injured a quadriceps at the combine. How’s it coming along?
“I’m not really feeling it now, so it’s on its way, for sure. Probably another week and I will go full.”
As you probably know, your father played here at RFK Stadium …..
“He played in here? I didn’t know that. This is where the Diplomats played?”
“Wow, that’s crazy. I didn’t even know this building was that old.”
It was built in 1897. That’s a joke. Sort of. How close are you with your dad?
“I keep up with him every now and then. My parents separated my freshman year in high school. My dad remained in Arizona for a few years, but after that, he returned to Trinidad and he’s still there. He’s coaching youth clubs.”
Have you drawn from your father’s past experiences to better prepare yourself for the next level?
“I have his genes, so soccer is in me. He has talked to me about the distractions [off the field] that come about when you become a pro, what it can bring. He went through the same thing – I didn’t ask for details -- and he was telling me he went the wrong way as far as decisions. He has harped on me to just focus, focus, focus on soccer right now because it can take you places.”
What does your mom do?
“She works at PING, the golf company, for like 20 years at their corporate headquarters. [She’s a supervisor.] My dad became a golfer, every weekend. I tried but it’s hard. … She was born and raised in Arizona, just like me. My parents met when my dad was playing indoors there.”
With your Trinidad roots, have you ever visited there?
“I haven’t. My sister has gone, my mom has gone. I’m trying to.”
You are eligible to play for T&T, right?
“Yes. I’m working on it. Getting a passport anyway, just so I have that option available.”
Has the T&T federation reached out to you?
“My agent has talked to them a little bit but we have nothing concrete.”