High school junior and soccer player Giovanni Calderon thought he was just going to an interview for a scholarship application. Instead he got a visit from New York Red Bulls defender Aurelien Collin.
Collin presented Calderon with a $5,000 college scholarship, tickets to the second leg of the Red Bulls’ Eastern Conference final against Atlanta United on Thursday and a trip to the MLS Cup.
“This is crazy,” said Calderon, a center back. “It is just so overwhelming.”
Collin said one of his favorite aspects of his job is doing things like surprising Calderon.
“To be honest, any opportunity we have to give back to the community, or give a big smile and a big hope for a kid, that’s great for us,” he said. “We receive so much from everybody, and when we have an opportunity to give back, as much as I can, I try to do it.”
The Red Bulls face a considerable on-field challenge on Thursday: Atlanta heads into the match with a 3-0 advantage after last Sunday’s first leg.
The winner will go on to play the winner of the Western Conference final between Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup title match on Dec. 8. The Timbers and Sporting played to a scoreless draw on Sunday and also play a second leg on Thursday.
Calderon, 16, plays for the NYCFC Academy team and attends high school in Connecticut. He was working with the Alianza U Foundation, a nonprofit that helps Hispanic players navigate the recruiting process and secure athletic scholarships.
Calderon and his parents showed up Tuesday for an appointment with Allstate Insurance agent Jose Espejo, who was helping with his scholarship application. But he was met by Collin, who presented him with the scholarship that’s part of Allstate’s partnership with Alianza U.
Calderon was one of four players who received college scholarships through the program. The others were midfielder Carlos Luna of the Concorde Fire in Atlanta, midfielder Derek Colato of KC Fusion and defender Jaime Robles of the Portland Timbers Development Academy. Players from the four teams in the conference finals presented the awards.
Calderon, who hasn’t yet committed to a college, has been playing since he was 3.
“If I get injured while playing the sport as a professional then I wouldn’t have anything to fall back on,” he said. “But after college I can also pursue the dream of being a professional soccer player.”
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