It's unlikely we'll see the career path of Florian Valot replicated in MLS ever again.
The Frenchman spent time in the famed academies of AS Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain before eventually coming to the United States for college soccer at 21 years old. He didn't go to a traditional powerhouse, landing instead at Rider University, located in New Jersey, and he left school at age 23, not a young age in professional soccer.
That didn't stop him. In fact, perseverance has marked his career in recent years.
After a struggle to get to MLS, then seeing both 2018 and 2019 end prematurely with a torn ACL each year, Valot fought back and reclaimed his starting spot by opening day in 2020. He marked the occasion with two assists in a New York Red Bulls win over FC Cincinnati.
“It was so great," Valot told MLSsoccer.com last week. "That week I was so excited and so anxious to get going. I couldn’t have imagined a better start to the season.”
The global pandemic couldn't stop him, either.
When Valot originally arrived at Rider it was a bit of a culture shock, but not one that lasted too long. He adapted pretty quickly to the culture and norms, he says.
It doesn't hurt that his English is perfect, you'd never guess it wasn't his native tongue. His English was ordained a bit with a trial by fire after two years in Scotland ("yeah, the accent is really hard to understand sometimes," he joked). At 21 years old, he wasn't sure if he'd get to realize his dream of becoming professional, but he wasn't giving up, either. Valot took the opportunity provided to him at Rider and embraced the challenge.
“When I moved, it was more about traveling and experiencing something different," Valot said. "I always had hope to make it one day, but being offered a scholarship to play football, I couldn’t refuse it. I went with a fresh pair of eyes.”
The Red Bulls do a great job of scouting deep in the area around the club, as Valot is an example of many local college players on their radar over the years. He got a chance with New York Red Bulls II, the club's USL Championship affiliate. He helped guide the team to 2016 USL Cup and lit up the league en route to an MLS contract ahead of the 2018 season. A stellar preseason earned him a starting role by the third game of the season despite a number of higher-paid and higher-potential players around him. He didn't relinquish that spot, going on to start 13 of the team's next 14 games.
Then a torn ACL prematurely ended his season. Valot didn't let that derail him, reclaiming his starting place by opening day of 2019. His season ended in his second game with another torn ACL.
“Yeah, I knew it was torn right away," Valot said, his voice trailing off a touch.
Not to make light of the physical pain the injury causes, then the countless sweat-filled hours behind closed doors working like hell to rehab and get back to the pitch, but Valot pointed to the mental toll those injuries took on him.
“People will tell you they know how it feels, but nobody knows how it feels," Valot said. "Nobody knows how it feels to go through it twice, back-to-back. I’m just so thankful to be back and playing.”
Valot isn't back to just playing, he's excelling.
He embodies the Red Bull way. An overlooked talent, one identified through local scouting, developed further in USL, then rewarded for his performance and growth with not just an MLS contract, but a real chance at earning minutes.
Valot appeared in every single RBNY match this year, starting 17 of the 23. His box score numbers don't jump off the page as he's played a bit deeper than normal in recent games, but he's been integral on helping guide the club to the playoffs even as the season hit a nadir that ultimately cost Chris Armas his job over the summer.
“In previous years, we used to be the favorites to go as far as we can," Valot said. "Now we’re going in as the underdogs, even though we’ve secured a lot of good results lately. We have a good chance. It’s playoffs, it’s one game. It’s going to be fun. A lot of people are counting us out and that’s fueling us. People won't see us coming."