Matt Mahoney felt strange before the Owls’ spring game against Bethlehem Steel FC on March 4.
Instead of suiting up for Temple, like he did for the past four years, Mahoney stood on the sideline for Bethlehem Steel FC, a United Soccer League team.
Though Mahoney couldn’t play due to a sprained ankle, the matchup between his old team and his new team was a sign of the end of an era for the defender.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Mahoney said. “I’m happy to get to the next step in my professional career, but I’ll miss the guys that I’ve played with for three, four years now, so I think that’s the saddest part.”
Four of seven seniors from the 2016 squad will play professional soccer after graduation. Defender Stefan Mueller signed with Germany’s TB Upshusen, defender Carlos Moros Gracia signed with Sweden’s GIF Sundsvall and Mahoney plays for the Steel, which are affiliated with MLS’ Philadelphia Union.
In January, Vancouver Whitecaps FC selected Jorge Gomez Sanchez, Temple’s leading scorer and last season’s Philadelphia Soccer Six player of the year, in the MLS SuperDraft.
Gomez Sanchez didn’t make the Whitecaps’ first team and decided to search for a place to play in his native Spain.
“I thought I could get a better opportunity and a better contract somewhere else,” he said.
Gomez Sanchez’s first choice is to find a Spanish team because it means he would be near his family and friends. If he lands a spot on a Spanish team, Gomez Sanchez will return home after being away for six years.
Moros Gracia, also from Spain, signed with GIF Sundsvall in March. Though he is in the country, he hasn’t played for the team yet, but is excited to start contributing. While at Temple, Moros Gracia helped the back line produce nine shutouts and only allow 15 goals in 18 games.
Moros Gracia hopes to bring his passing ability and his fun-loving personality to GIF Sundsvall, but he might have to wait until summer before he can compete. He is happy with his chance to play professionally but said he’ll miss his “family, friends and culture” while in Sweden.
“The life is just a surprise,” Moros Gracia said. “One day this club asked me if I could be there in two days. And it was how the opportunity begun.”
For Mahoney, missing home is less of a concern. Even though Mahoney is from Poughkeepsie, New York, he is playing in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, about a 90-minute drive from Main Campus.
“It is very awesome that I went to school in Philly and now I’m able to go play for a team near my college,” Mahoney said. “It just shows how much my college helped me.”
Last summer, Mahoney interned with the Philadelphia Union. After Temple’s season ended, he reached out to a Union coach who helped him get a trial during the Steel’s preseason camp. After two weeks, the coaching staff told Mahoney the team wanted to sign him.
Mahoney aims to get playing time in pursuit of his ultimate goal: advancing to the MLS.
“It’s been a dream of mine for years now and being able to make that dream become a reality is amazing,” Mahoney said. “I’m not quite ready to do real work yet, so the fact that I am able to play soccer and continue doing what I love is amazing.”
Mueller, a defender who had 70 career starts, will head to Germany to continue his soccer career. Both sides of Mueller’s family are from Germany, he has a German passport and he can speak some German. His sister lives and plays soccer in Germany while she attends graduate school.
Mahoney hopes high-profile recruits will see the four Owls signed to professional teams and more players will choose Temple.
“I think it will put it on the map even more,” Mahoney said. “I think we’ve shown the past four years that we can compete with some of the best teams in the country, and I think it’s only going to make Temple seem more attractive to other prospects that are looking to go to college now.”
Maura Razanausakas can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.