American players typically face a crossroads at some stage of their careers: stay in the United States or test the waters in Europe. This opportunity can arise when entering the professional game or after gaining more experience, sometimes multiple times. Dante Polvara opted for Europe following a dominant run at the college level, opting to try his luck abroad. The 22-year-old midfielder is receiving regular playing time at Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership, looking to establish a foothold overseas.
Born in Pleasantville and initially competing with the New York Soccer Club, Polvara joined the New York City FC Academy in 2016 and played a “pivotal role” in winning consecutive Development Academy national championships. The midfielder was invited to preseason with the professional group while also enjoying the occasional training session at Chelsea. He attended the prestigious Brunswick School in Greenwich, Connecticut, suiting up for the soccer and American football squads, the latter as a placekicker.
Despite having opportunities, he opted to remain at the amateur level. “Not everyone’s ready at 16 to play [professionally],” Polvara told American Soccer Now. “Even if at 18, right before I went to college, I had been offered a professional contract, I don’t think it would have made sense because I just didn’t feel ready. I knew I wanted to play pro, but some guys mature later. I just simply wasn’t ready. College for me gave me the opportunity to not only pursue an education, but also have the chance and be given the freedom to learn a lot about yourself.”
Polvara matriculated to Georgetown University, enjoying a successful three-year collegiate career. In his sophomore season, he was an All-American in several publications, earned First Team All-BIG EAST Honors, and was named BIG EAST Midfielder of the Year. The next year was even more impressive, registering seven goals and six assists while reaching the College Cup semifinals. A shower of awards followed, including winning the MAC Hermann Trophy and being named the nation’s top player by Top Drawer Soccer, also earning an ESPY nomination for Best College Athlete.
Turning down his final season of collegiate eligibility, Polvara received interest “from a ton of MLS general managers” but opted to pursue opportunities abroad due to his Italian passport. NYCFC was reportedly uninterested in keeping him, having already “made a decision on him at 16,” according to his college manager. He moved to Scotland, signing a two-and-a-half-year contract with four-time champions Aberdeen, spurning interest from other European options including Hibernian, as well as “Italian and German sides.” The “fantastic emerging talent” was swayed by the culture and occasional USMNT call-up Christian Ramirez, who sold him on the club’s history of development.
Dante Polvara with the assist for the winner in 2021’s Big East championship game. pic.twitter.com/0nUXdL112S— Here We Go! - The Aberdeen FC Podcast (@AFCHereWeGo) January 8, 2022
“I had a number of other options, both in the MLS and Europe, but I felt that Aberdeen was the right club for me to learn and develop as a player,” shared Polvara. “It has a clear strategy of investing in players and providing a viable pathway to enable them to fulfill their potential. I can’t wait to get started and meet my new teammates.”
In his first season, Polvara encountered a double hernia which required a “small keyhole incision” operation and kept him out of the lineup for months. The Dons struggled, fighting to stay above the relegation zone and changing managers, the latter of which came as “a shock” to the new signing. Dealing with the “step up in physicality,” he ultimately made five appearances and started the final three matches, helping stave off the drop. Local media hailed him as “tidy with passes, comfortable on the ball, and able to find space in possession,” described as the necessary “attacking, creative spark” with the potential to be a part of future plans.
He started the current season in the starting lineup, playing 90 minutes in a 2-0 victory against Peterhead in the Scottish League Cup. Polvara also went the distance in the Premiership opener, which ended in a 2-0 defeat to title favorites Celtic. The country’s reputation for physicality has helped him to “build character” and provided a test that forces players to “face some sort of adversity.” While still trying to gain a foothold in the tight rotation, his goal is to be “considered for every single squad” and “get in the thick of it,” relishing the opportunity to “push” and “test” himself.
Polvara is a towering, 6’4” midfielder, who thrives in open play with a real nose for the goal. Capable of “establishing himself as a top box-to-box,” he immediately looks to drive possession forward with an advancing dribble or pass and is able to hit an incisive through ball or dimension-altering field-switch. His college head coach praised his “confidence,” while others have observed his constant engagement, with “eyes that are constantly darting around the pitch in search of the next passage of play.”
“My best attribute has always been my passing ability and my ability to open the field,” expressed Polvara. “That is something we could do with, some quality in the final third, picking out a pass or a cross. I also have an ability to get from box-to-box and to be a two-way midfielder. That energy is what the gaffer is looking for. I know from my experience I don’t like playing against guys who never stop running. Having that energy and physical presence is good, but you also need a calmness when you have the ball at your feet and to change the game and make things happen.”
After three seasons of college soccer, Polvara embarked on a decidedly late start to his professional career. He was able to immediately begin contributing to the first team at Aberdeen and displayed few issues with adjustment. While there is some debate over Scotland’s place in the hierarchy, earning minutes in a European first-division league is worthy of further observation. With continued development and consistent playing time, there is the opportunity to make the jump to a bigger club and enter the national team picture.