Tony Donatelli takes PDL path to pros

Former Baron helps Vancouver win their first championship in his rookie season

Tony Donatelli scored five goals in his rookie season with Vancouver.
Photo: Josh Devins/Whitecaps
Former Temple University and Ocean City Barons standout Tony Donatelli is making the most of his first season as a professional soccer player. He didn’t waste any time, scoring an amazing equalizer in his first start with the Vancouver Whitecaps of the United Soccer Leagues First Division. After playing in 24 games in the regular season, he added three postseason goals to help lead the club to their first league championship. (Check out Tony’s first professional goal courtesy of Allison Andrews of SoccerCityUSA.com)

Donatelli, a Glenside, PA native, is one of the many college players who have taken advantage of the Premier Development League (PDL) as a way to develop his skills to prepare him for the next level.

"Playing in the PDL for two years significantly influenced my development as a player," said Donatelli. "Being able to play with so many talented players and for a club as professionally run as the Barons, it clearly impacted my improvement."

Former Temple University and Ocean City Barons standout Tony Donatelli is making the most of his first season as a professional soccer player. He didn’t waste any time, scoring an amazing equalizer in his first start with the Vancouver Whitecaps of the United Soccer Leagues First Division.

Photo: Josh Devins/Whitecaps
After playing in 24 games in the regular season, he added three postseason goals to help lead the club to their first league championship. (Check out Tony’s first professional goal courtesy of Allison Andrews of SoccerCityUSA.com)

Donatelli, a Glenside, PA native, is one of the many college players who  have taken advantage of the Premier Development League (PDL) as a way to develop his skills to prepare him for the next level.

"Playing in the PDL for two years significantly influenced my development as a player," said Donatelli. "Being able to play with so many talented players and for a club as professionally run as the Barons, it clearly impacted my improvement."

In his second season with the Barons in the summer of 2005, he was an All-Conference selection contributing 10 goals and six assists in 16 matches. He carried that momentum into his senior season at Temple where he earned a spot on the Atlantic-10 All-Conference team for the second year in a row and was named the Philadelphia Soccer Seven Player of the Year.

After the college season was over, he was drafted by the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer (MLS) with the eighth pick of the third round of the Supplemental Draft. After failing to make the roster on one of the league’s top clubs, Donatelli was contacted by the Rochester Rhinos and the Vancouver Whitecaps of the USL First Division. Wanting to stay closer to home, he spent two weeks with the Rhinos during the preseason, but was unable to find a place in an already crowded midfield.

Photo: Josh Devins/Whitecaps
Vancouver, still interested in his services, flew him out to the West Coast to take part in preseason training and eventually signed him. Once he was in a Whitecaps uniform, it didn’t take long for him to make an impact with his new club.

"My first professional start with the Whitecaps is something that I will never forget," said Donatelli. "I was disappointed that we came away from the game with the tie but to be able to score the tying goal on the road is something I will always cherish. With the goal being one of the best that I have scored in my playing career, it also adds greatly to the memory."

Tony would appear in 24 games during the 2006 season, scoring two goals (both coming against the Portland Timbers) and adding two assists. The Caps would eventually qualify for the playoffs by finishing fourth in the league with a 12-6-10 record.

"Being my first professional season, I was unsure what role I would end up playing for the team. I was given some opportunities to start games and performed well, but with such a talented and veteran team, I knew my role would change from game to game. But the coach and guys on the team made sure I knew that I was needed and that I always remained focused."

He made his biggest mark in the postseason where he topped his offensive production in just five appearances. He came off the bench in both games of their first round series with Miami FC, scoring a goal in their 4-1 first leg victory and assisted on a Martin Nash goal in a 2-0 second leg win.

His performance against Miami earned him a start against the Montreal Impact in the first leg which finished scoreless, and came off the bench in game two and scored a goal in extra time to help put the Whitecaps in the final for the first time.

Donatelli converts from the spot in a penalty kick shootout with Cardiff City on July 23, 2006. The two clubs finished scoreless and the Whitecaps won the shootout 3-1 to capture the first Whitecaps Nations Cup. Photo: Josh Devins/Whitecaps
Finding his form at just the right time, he was awarded with a start in the USL First Division championship game against the Rochester Rhinos at their brand new soccer specific stadium, PAETEC Park. Already holding a 1-0 lead after a Rochester own goal before halftime, Donatelli padded the lead with his third goal of the postseason on an assist from Joey Gjertsen. Sita-Taty Matondo would add a late goal to give the Whitecaps a 3-0 win and their first league title.

After an amazing rookie season, Tony is moving on to his next challenge: indoor soccer. He has returned home to play in the MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League) for the Philadelphia Kixx where he will reunite with former college and Ocean City Barons teammates Patrick Hannigan and Steven Wacker.

Donatelli’s path to the pros is becoming more and more popular among college players trying to make the transition into a professional environment. 34 former PDL players were selected in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft, and 29 more were taken in the MLS Supplemental Draft. He recommends the PDL to players trying to take the next step in their development as a player.

"The PDL is the closest you can get to playing at the professional level while retaining your college eligibility. Plus, with the opportunity to possibly play in the Open Cup against all the professional teams is truly exciting."

BONUS FOOTAGE: Thanks to the recent online video revolution, millions of people have seen Tony Donatelli play soccer, but not necessarily for his playing ability. Playing for FC Coppa when he was 17 years old, Tony fired a shot toward goal, but it wasn’t exactly on target. Watch the video HERE.

 

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