The Washington Post

D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon pulling for Louisville Cardinals in NCAA Final Four

Rookie midfielder Nick DeLeon is the only D.C. United player hailing from a college with a basketball team in the men’s Final Four (Louisville).

Before relocating to Washington for training camp, DeLeon was friendly with some of the basketball players. One, in particular, had a keen interest in soccer and would kick around at informal indoor matches on campus: 6-foot-11 center Gorgui Dieng .

“For as big as he is,” the 5-10 DeLeon said of the Senegal native, “he’s got some smooth feet.”

Like most other West Africans, Dieng was drawn to soccer at a young age.

“I was nice,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I can show you some video if you want.”

When he began to grow (and grow and grow), he turned to basketball.

Dieng’s favorite athlete outside of basketball: FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

In United’s NCAA tournament pool, DeLeon picked Louisville to reach the championship game against Kansas — but chose the Jayhawks to win it all. DeLeon said he and midfielder Chris Pontius (a former UC Santa Barbara Gaucho) are tied for first. Pontius took Kansas to beat Kentucky in the final.

Midfielder Danny Cruz organized the pool. He entered the round of 16 in last place, he admitted, before making up ground in the regionals.

With United playing FC Dallas in a rare Friday night match at RFK Stadium, DeLeon and Pontius have Saturday off to watch the Final Four together.

Added DeLeon: “I’ll be screaming at the TV, for sure.”

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.


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