Daniele Proch is one of eight newcomers on this year’s North Carolina FC squad, and the 23-year-old striker’s journey to the club is certainly an interesting one. A native of Riva Del Garda, Italy, Proch came to the United States in 2016 to play college soccer at Catawba College. After a stellar freshman year, Proch played three seasons with the Duke Blue Devils, where he earned Second Team All-America honors in 2018.
Proch’s goal of becoming a professional soccer player was accomplished when he signed with NCFC in February, but he understandably feels “like the fun's just started.”
What was it like growing up in Riva Del Garda, a town of 17,000 in northeast Italy?
"It's a beautiful town. There's the biggest lake in Italy there, and it's surrounded by mountains, so the landscape is beautiful. It's known for hiking, kite surfing and lots of tourists in the summer. So, that's what the economy of the place is based on. And, growing up, it was a good place. You kind of get to know everyone in the area because there's not many people there. I guess at some point in my life I felt like I wanted to broaden my horizons, so that's why I made the choice of leaving to go to the U.S."
What went into the decision to come to the U.S. and how did that come about?
"I graduated from high school in 2015, and I didn't know what to study back home, and I was looking for something else. I guess the programs that were offered there, I wasn't particularly intrigued by anything specifically. So, my cousin comes up to me and says, 'Hey, you should go study in the U.S., where you can combine both sport and academics,’ because at home, you either do one or the other – it's very hard to do both at a high level. So I took a year off, studying English, taking SATs and all those kinds of exams. But I didn't know anything about college. "
"My cousin put me in contact with this guy who found Catawba College (NCAA Div. II) for me, which you know is not a big college – it's like 1,200 people. They offered me a scholarship, and I said, 'You know what, I have nothing to lose. I'm going to go and try.' I went there, and my first year I did very well, soccer-wise and I was able to transfer for my sophomore year and I went to Duke. Obviously, once I got there my whole perspective on college and life and everything else changed. Duke provided me with everyone I could ask for in terms of tools for success. It sounds cliche, but it's actually true. I finished my degree a semester early, in three and a half years, because I planned to go pro, which happened. Now we're going from there."
In addition to getting acclimated culturally, what was the transition from Italian soccer to college soccer in the U.S. like?
“The soccer was very different from what I used to play back home. And then it was an even bigger difference when I went to Duke because it was a more physical game. It was more running-based than back home, where I like to say we're tacticians – we care a lot about tactics of the game. The ACC was more physical, running up and down for 90 mintues. My first season at Duke was OK – I wasn't able to have the impact I wanted to, and then I had to adjust my fitness, which I did for the following two years. That's when I was able to perform at my best."
Growing up in Italy, who were some of your favorite footballers?
"I'm an AC Milan fan, and growing up AC Milan was at its best – the golden age with Kaka, Shevchenko, Pirlo ... all those players. I loved Kaka, I would say him. Obviously I'm very fond of Pirlo, the midfielder, Italian guy as well. Even Shevchenko, some of those goals he scored were unreal. But if I were to pick one, I'd go with Kaka."
2006 was a good time to be a 10-year-old fan of the game in Italy, wasn’t it?
“I remember it all. I remember watching the final with my family. We were outside, it was summer on the big screen. France is our biggest rival, together with Germany – we beat them both, one in the semi and one in the final. And then we hopped in our cars and started to honk all around my town. People were running crazy and playing the trumpets. It was a fun time. Hopefully we're going to go back to high levels."
When you came to the U.S., you set the goal of becoming a professional one day. Now that you’ve done that, how does it feel?
"I did check off this box, but I don't feel like I've arrived yet. It's completely the opposite. I feel like the fun's just started, so I'm motivated to give even more, now that I can put my foot into the door. It's there for me to take it and prove everything I can do now amongst professionals."
What does your family back home think about the journey you’ve taken?
"They always supported me with that, so I'm always grateful for that. When I decided to go to the United States, they never put up obstacles in my way. The said, 'It's your life. You made this choice ... go for it.' I keep them updated on what I do and accomplish. We're a soccer family, so they're happy I was able to do well in my soccer career in college and now playing professionally.”
Overall, how have your first 6-7 weeks at NCFC been?
"It's nice that now soccer is all I'm thinking about. Having my mind free allows me to play as well with freedom. You have the time to rest, prepare properly, which reduces the risk of injuries, which is the worst thing in sports. The guys have been amazing, welcoming me since day one. Even before that, I remember before I even showed my face in February, I had a couple guys texting me, 'Hey, welcome to the team.' It was great. The living situation is nice – we all live next to one another in the apartments. It strengthens the bonding between us. It's been nice so far."
Your living situation is a unique one. You, as a Blue Devil, have Alex Comsia, a Tar Heel, and Manny Perez, a member of the Wolfpack, as roommates. How’s that working out?
"Despite our college rivalries, we're doing fine. We still have the apartment looking nice. We clean up. We set some rules to make sure that we're going to live in a nice apartment, and we've been watching the basketball games. There's definitely a good connection there."