Amherst’s Marcos Sotarello playing professional soccer for Maryland Bobcats


Staff Writer

Published: 05-14-2023 5:45 PM

Marcos Sotarello approached the first door to his professional soccer career at the Victoria Stadium on the Strait of Gibraltar. Europa Point, one of the Gibraltar Football League’s 11 clubs, offered the Amherst native and two International Development Academy teammates a professional tryout. It was Sotarello’s first chance after a year and a half in Spain.

He originally moved across the Atlantic to play during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when leagues across the United States shut down. That provided the best path to his professional goals.

Europa Point presented a door to Sotarello and his teammates. They all knocked.

“There’s gonna be some doors that open up for you. There’s gonna be some doors that don’t,” Sotarello said. “You as a young player that’s striving to keep getting better, it’s a matter of knocking on every door you possibly can until that one actually does open up.”

His two teammates were offered contracts. The club told Sotarello he wasn’t at that level. Yet.

“It was pretty tough, especially seeing your teammates or people close to you that you work with every day. It was challenging, but it was also a great learning curve, especially me being really young in that situation,” said Sotarello, who was 18 years old at the time. “It gives you a taste of what it’s like to be that close to the professional level. It makes you strive to want it more.”

The desire drove Sotarello as he returned to IDA and competed for the academy’s team and with CF La Vall. He eventually caught on with the men’s team at Almenara Atletic. Even as one of the younger players in that league, Sotarello started most of his matches in the midfield.

“Once you break into that men’s league you realize all of the different players and how good each player can be at your position. The one thing is the competition. You have to be sharp in the men’s league there’s always going to be someone to take your spot if you have a bad performance,” Sotarello said. “You always have to be on your best level if you want to continue to get minutes and play.”

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He kept pushing toward more professional doors. After participating in a La Liga select camp over the summer in 2022, Sotarello attended a showcase for Spain’s top professional league in Madrid like Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Getafe CF. He’d been in Spain so long, nearly three years at that point, playing with grown men that the big names didn’t faze him. Sotarello believed he belonged and played like it.

“It was an opportunity to go show yourself. The opportunity doesn’t come like that every day so you’ve got to do the best you can and have no regrets afterward,” Sotarello said. “I didn’t get called up to any of the clubs but I got good feedback from the coaches, great experience overall and something I’ll take with me the rest of my life.”

Hearing ‘no’ once more didn’t discourage him. Sotarello returned once again to IDA and Almenara. He participated in the Mediterranean International Cup, the largest youth tournament in Spain and one of the largest in the world. His IDA team finished top of its group but fell 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao’s youth squad in the first round.

“Kids who are on pro contracts in those youth academies,” Sotarello said. “For me I’d been there for so long that it didn’t seem that insane to me until I look back and really think about it. For me it was routine, playing soccer in Spain, which is still crazy to think about. Playing teams like that or the tournaments we’ve been in or clubs at the level, it was another opportunity, it’s a test of how you can prove yourself or how you compare to players at that level. I want to be where those kids are. How do I test myself and how do I compare against them?”

That was near the end of the season. He went home for part of the summer then returned to Spain once more for a tryout in northern Spain in the Guyon region. Sotarello prepared all summer for it and lived by himself there in an AirBnB for two weeks, not knowing anyone and preparing his own meals, keeping the space hospitable. The club didn’t sign him either, but the trial went well. He’s still in contact with the coaches.

“I was a little below that level. They could have signed me but had multiple players in my position that were better than me, and I wouldn’t play much,” Sotarello said. “I needed to go somewhere where I would get lots of minutes to continue developing and improving.”

Initially that was La Vall’s men’s B team in the fall of 2022, but he also turned an eye closer to home and opportunities in the states. Sotarello kept searching for a door that would open. He connected with an agent that brought him out to Los Angeles for a trial with the Los Angeles Force, a National Independent Soccer Association in the third division of American professional soccer.

“It seemed like everything was good and on track for me to sign over there and play. At the end of the day they didn’t want me and didn’t want to pay for my housing, the food and living out there because it was far from home,” Sotarello said. “That hit me hard. I wasn’t expecting that. I had to go back home again and start from fresh. Looking up different teams in that league, I knew I had the level to play there.”

The Maryland Bobcats offered open tryouts. Sotarello didn’t even want to attend. He turned to his family and longtime mentor Lucas Zeiler, founder of MSM (My Soccer Mentor) Performance Academy, who he has known for four years.

“These were career-making or breaking times. It was hard not to be with him when disappointments came. He was, of course, upset after not making the squads for the different teams, especially in Los Angeles,” said Jean Janecki, his mother. “Seeing your child suffer is heartbreaking, but I knew he would pick himself up and be persistent.”

Janecki and Zeiler convinced him to attend the tryout in Maryland. The door was there, why not knock?

“I have nothing to lose it’s just another opportunity to play. Enjoy it and keep learning,” he said.

The handle turned, and light spilled through the crack. The Bobcats invited him to join their preseason camp and signed him to a contract a few days later.

“It was a relief. I know all the hard work I’ve put in over the years and building out for each separate tryout. Hearing a team wants you and they’re excited for you to be a part of the club, me being a young player they think I have a great future,” said Sotarello, now 19. “Inside it’s a great feeling that you’re wanted after so many tries knocking on different doors, one opened up.”

Sotarello didn’t appear in the Bobcats’ first two matches, including a U.S. Open Cup victory on April 5. He finally made his professional debut April 22 in the 58th minute of a rout against Club De Lyon FC. Within three minutes, he joined the play just outside the box. Sotarello tapped the ball around his defender to the right at the waiting foot of Marcus Thom, who ripped a first-time shot into the net for his first career goal. That tally gave Sotarello the first assist of his career.

“It was an incredible feeling and also a surreal moment to get my first minutes as a professional soccer player. Then to get an assist moments after coming on just felt very rewarding for the hard work that I have been putting in training with the Bobcats but also just over the years to think how much I have worked for this moment and I was able to make it a reality,” Sotarello said. “Sometimes it still doesn't feel real, and especially at the moment, it felt like I was made for this and just felt natural. At the same time, looking back or pausing and realizing how far I have come and where I am currently is just incredible. I just tell myself that it's only the beginning, and I believe in myself that there's so much more to come.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>