Player Feature: Jose "Pepe" Maldonado

Only 30 seconds after entering the game against Western Mass, Jose “Pepe” Maldonado came within inches of immortality. Following a tackle by Victor Ramirez, Maldonado controlled the ball, skipped past a defender and fired a low shot that looked destined for the far corner. Only the intervention of Pioneers keeper Matt Glaeser kept Maldonado from forever being known as “the first ever goal-scorer for Real Maryland in a competitive match.” 

Maldonado’s 55th minute entrance changed the complexion of the game. Maldonado’s forays down the right flank caused his Western Mass counterpart to drop deeper and Real Maryland began to look more dangerous on the attack. Western Mass formed a defensive shell enabling them to just hold on for their 1-0 victory.

In the process, Maldonado’s performance has given his manger the only good type of headache there is- A selection headache.  

Maldonado’s career started at age seven when he joined the youth set up of famous Mexican side Chivas in his hometown of Guadalajara.

His passion for soccer was ignited the year before. In 1986 the World Cup was held in Mexico and Maldonado had the fortune of seeing one of the best matches of the tournament.

“My uncle took me to El Estadio Jalisco to watch Brazil play France,” Maldonado recalls. “It was Platini’s France versus Zico’s Brazil. It was beautiful, my favorite memory of growing up in Mexico.”

Despite playing for Chivas, Maldonado supported Atlas and attended almost all their home matches.

In 1994, a major international development caused Maldonado and his family to leave Mexico for the United States.

“In 1994 they opened NAFTA and my dad was in the cattle business so that affected us in a big way. We needed to look for something different, something new, so we decided to come over for a couple of years, save up a little bit of money working and then go back.”

For Pepe, things didn’t go according to the script. “It’s a great country,” Pepe says of the US. “Doors just kept opening for me.”

No move is easy and Pepe remembers the early years presenting its challenges. “The first couple of years the language was tough, but after you pick up the language, you realize that people are really friendly and the adjustment becomes a whole lot easier.”

Soccer made the transition a lot smoother. Pepe starred for Team America, playing in the same Virginia youth club system as teammate Muner Hassen who played with Pepe’s younger brother.

Maldonado’s exploits with Team America and Thomas Edison High School in Fairfax earned him a soccer scholarship at Virginia Commonwealth University.   

“I loved playing at VCU,” said Maldonado. “I’d say VCU is one of only five college programs in the nation that play a really attractive style of soccer. They possess the ball and they recruit really skillful players. I had a lot of fun playing there.”

Despite a great freshman year, Maldonado took the decision to transfer to George Mason so he could live at home and work while attending school. After two successful seasons culminating in Maldonado’s leading the Patriots in scoring in 2001, he decided to leave school in pursuit of his dream, to make it as a professional soccer player.

Maldonado returned to Mexico and sought out the youth coach at Tecos UAG. Maldonado was given a tryout and signed a contract after training with the club for only three weeks.

“I was in good shape. I was really prepared, so when they gave me that chance I really took advantage of it.”

For Pepe, playing professionally in his home country was beyond anything he could have ever imagined.

“It was incredible playing for Tecos. I had the opportunity to train with four or five players who had been in World Cups. So watching them play and training with them was amazing. I was only 20 and I was living the dream.”

Unfortunately, injury stalled Pepe’s career and he decided to return to the US to finish his degree. After a few years on the sidelines, Pepe joined the Northern Virginia Royals for two seasons, playing for none other than Silvino Gonzalo.

After the Royals franchise collapsed, Maldonado thought it was game over, but Real Maryland has given the wing wizard a chance to resurrect his career.

It was an opportunity Maldonado never expected. In fact, he didn’t even consider attending the tryouts.

“I heard about Real Maryland on a radio show,” recalls Maldonado. “I didn’t even know Silvino was the coach until later on. A couple of my younger friends coming out of college invited me for the tryout and at first I was a little doubtful. I told them I was out of shape and they said, ‘come! Let’s just go for fun.’ I made the first cut and I saw how organized Real Maryland was. So after that I started working extremely hard to get back into shape and be 100% and here I am.”

Maldonado says he is proud to be a part of Real Maryland and is really enjoying his new surroundings.

“It means a lot to be able to play here, especially locally and at home. It’s great to be on a professional team with players like Ronald Cerritos that have a lot of experience. I grew up watching MLS when I was 14 and I remember watching him when he was a young guy playing for San Jose. It’s wonderful to have an opportunity to play with him. Also the fans look like they want to really support us, so we’re working really hard to make them happy.”

In Pre-season and against Western Mass, Gonzalo used Maldonado as a second half sub. While no player likes to be on the bench, Maldonado is remaining patient and is just trying to make the most of the chances he is given.

“It’s tough,” says Maldonado. “I want to be a starter. So I try to make things happen as soon as I go in because it’s a short amount of time that I’m playing. When I’m on the bench, I try to stay focused so that when I do come in, I look dangerous on the field. The more dangerous I look, the more confidence the coach will have in me.”

Maldonado may very well start this weekend against Pittsburgh because of the red card to Teodoro Ramirez. But a few more performances like the one against Western Mass and Gonzalo will have no choice but to start Maldonado, regardless of the players the coach has at his disposal.

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