Danny Cepero C’08 enjoyed one of the greatest debuts in the history of Major League Soccer when he scored a goal – as a goalie. He went on to lead the New York Red Bulls to the league championship game as a rookie in 2008, all while finding time to finish his coursework at Penn so he could graduate from the school where he starred on the soccer field for four years.
The Penn grad, profiled recently in the Gazette, had it all going for him it seemed. But a little more than a week ago, the Red Bulls released Cepero – a victim of new management looking to clean house after a disappointing 2009 season.
I recently got in touch with Cepero, who was gracious enough to write me back a long, poignant e-mail, which I will share almost entirely unedited.
Here, in his own words, is Cepero’s reaction to being released, his thoughts on the ongoing negotiations between the league and the players’ union, the support he’s received from friends, family and other people in the Penn community, his disappointment in missing out on the Red Bulls’ new stadium, and, most of all, his hopes for the future:
I was a bit surprised at being released by New York. No one really wants to think they’re replaceable but it is an unfortunate reality of playing a professional sport. That being said, I knew that going into this preseason, there would be a good deal of change. Last year, one of the club’s worst, we finished dead last in the standings. So this year, with a new coach and general manager, a number of the players foresaw new players coming in and others going out. Unfortunately, I was in neither the coach’s nor the general manager’s plans for the future and was thus one of the players who found himself on his way out.
This past week has been one of mixed emotions. Initially, it was disappointing to hear that you are no longer in a team’s plans for the future. I thought about my parents, my family, former coaches, and close friends – and about how I was to inform them I had been released. It felt like I would be letting all these people – these people who had helped me to become a professional soccer player – down. I found myself wondering what more I could have done to secure a roster spot and if I still had a future in the sport. I was also sad to leave my teammates, many of whom I still consider great friends.
But as the days went on, I realized that perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. It was an opportunity to move to another team, to start over, and to hopefully restart my career. So right now, I have been in contact with a few teams in both MLS and the lower divisions of USL (United Soccer Leagues) and that have expressed interest in my abilities.
Unfortunately, under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement that MLS shares with the MLS Players Union, no contracts are guaranteed. As such, a team can release a player without having to fulfill the financial aspect of that player’s contract. The issue of guaranteed contracts is actually a controversial point of debate between the league and the players union. The previous CBA expired a few weeks ago and the two bodies have been meeting to discuss this and all other issues in order to reach an agreement before the season starts. It just so happened that I was released before an agreement could be reached and thus find myself not only out of contract but also without a paycheck. For the sake of the rest of the players in MLS, I hope a suitable agreement is reached soon.
I do regret not being able to play in the new stadium. I have visited it many times in the last few weeks and it looks incredible. It will only serve to improve the soccer viewing experience in the region and hopefully attract more attention to soccer not only in the region but the country as a whole.
People around me have been nothing but supportive. I suppose I wouldn’t keep them around me if they weren’t supportive. My parents and my friends have been tremendously helpful in terms of discussing my future plans. My former teammates have continually expressed their support and their confidence in my abilities as a goalkeeper, and my former goalkeeper coach has been helpful in contacting teams around the league in hopes of me finding a new club.
I obviously hope that everything works out in terms of soccer and my continuing to play. However, the reality of the situation is such that I need to prepare for that hope not coming to fruition. At the end of the day it is comforting to know that my degree from Penn may still carry some weight in the business world – or so I hope it does. Time will tell I guess. It’s just the waiting that’s the tough part.