HANOVER, N.J. – There were several times over the past couple of years that Florian Valot considered quitting soccer.
It is hard to imagine that the 25-year old midfielder, now a regular in the New York Red Bulls' starting XI, very nearly hung up the cleats for good.
Gifted on the ball and possessing a high work-rate, Valot’s emergence this year coincides with a strong run of form for the Red Bulls. He was an important piece in the team’s run through the Concacaf Champions League, making his first team debut midway through the first half of what would become an impressive win at Club Tijuana in the quarterfinals of the tournament. In league play, he’s held a high form as well, with three goals and three assists in seven appearances this year.
But Valot’s journey to get here includes being cut by Ligue 1 juggernaut Monaco then nearly quitting college soccer a couple years later. He also believed he bombed out of a local college combine run by the Red Bulls, as well as even contemplating moving on from the New York organization this past offseason. All those difficulties along the way, he says, paved the road for where he is at now.
“I was not ready when I was in the academy, I was not ready to play the next level,” Valot told MLSSoccer.com. “I was kind of aware but not and I think coming here and starting to enjoy the game again, I think that helped me improve me as a better person and as a soccer person. I got better technically, got better tactically. I think moving here to the US was the best decision.”
There were times where Valot was ready to give up on the sport entirely.
In 2013, Valot got cut from Monaco’s second team, which plays in France’s fourth division, and he failed to latch on with any other professional sides. He spent six months working at a women’s clothing store as a salesman, a job he says he “absolutely hated.” He thought soccer was a thing of the past, that he would only play recreationally.
But an agency that specializes in connecting French players with American colleges connected with him. After a combine event, several colleges offered and he ended up in New Jersey at Rider University.
His priority in college wasn’t to someday play professional soccer, as he basically wanted to use the sport as a means to getting a degree. In fact, the injuries and his form had him contemplating quitting college soccer before his senior year. But he stuck with it and following his final year at Rider in 2015, Valot was offered a chance to come to the Red Bulls' combine for local college players.
His coach had reached out to the coaching staff at the Red Bulls to talk about the talented midfielder. That fall, the Red Bulls had scouted several of Valot’s games in person.
At the local combine, Valot came in banged-up with hamstring injuries. Nevertheless, head coach Jesse Marsch said that the young midfielder stood out, even as Valot remarked that he thought his performance wasn’t exactly noteworthy.
“You never know but I could spot some things right away with him that made him different. He had an ease to the way he played, he had technical ability and he had athleticism,” Marsch told MLSSoccer.com.
“So without even knowing him too much, I could pick up on the fact that he had quality.”
He ended up on trial with the New York Red Bulls II and after some time, signed with the developmental club. But after 18 months in the USL, Valot was beginning to think about perhaps moving on and looking for an opportunity elsewhere.
He had some thoughts, Valot admits, about leaving the Red Bulls organization. He had a slow start in 2016 with the USL squad and following a breakout performance last year, he still hadn’t made his debut with the first team.
Opportunities were limited but a youth movement this offseason paved the way for Valot to see more and more of the field with the first team in preseason. He credits his mentality and an offseason talk with Marsch in helping him take this leap in his career.
Red Bulls II head coach John Wolyniec commented last year that Valot is at his best when he is smiling. Valot said that he found happiness on the field this year after evaluating himself this offseason.
He took the months leading up to this year to get physically stronger but also mentally and emotionally as well.
“Even my coach at Rider said ‘When you smile, you are at your best’,” Valot said.
“[I talked with] both Jesse, my father and one of Jesse’s friends, a sports psychologist. It’s just going on the field and enjoy, play for yourself – of course you have to listen to your coaches, teammates. But you have to please yourself first, be happy. And then outside, say 'I did everything I could, I’m happy with how I played.’ Then move on to the next thing.”