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Polvara eager to prove himself at Aberdeen in his first full season

With Aberdeen's season opening game against Celtic just a little more than a week away, ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke with midfielder Dante Polvara about his path from Westchester, to NYCFC, to Georgetown, and now Scotland. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 21, 2022
2:50 PM

LAST WINTER, Dante Polvara wrapped up his collegiate career at Georgetown following a stellar junior season where he helped guide the Hoyas to the College Cup semifinals. In his three year career with Georgetown, he was part of the 2019 National Championship team, was the Big East Midfielder of the Year his sophomore year, and then won the Hermann Trophy his junior year as the best collegiate player in the country.

Polvara was ready to make the jump to the professional level and a decision awaited him. As a native of Westchester County just north of New York City, Polvara spent key years developing with New York City FC, where he played at that academy level before college. But when it was time to turn professional, European options presented themselves.

In the end, Polvara opted to sign for Aberdeen in Scotland. Outside of the Old Firm, it is one of Scotland’s most prestigious clubs. The interest arose from a connection Georgetown head coach Brian Wiese had with former Aberdeen player Bobby Clark. 

Both of Polvara’s parents are from South Africa and Polvara himself spoke with an accent during his early childhood years. He also holds an Italian passport through his father, who was a big fan of the game. Polvara visited South Africa growing up and lists Cape Town as one of his favorite places.

As a child, he was a fan of Liverpool and would watch the Premier League on a regular basis. With his international background, Polvara wanted to pursue that European avenue while also getting a chance to see the world.

“Out of college, it's tough to get European opportunities,” Polvara said. “Some things need to fall your way…Growing up, all I did was watch the Premier League all weekend and watch Champions. For me to have the opportunity to be involved in that, in a culture where you don't have the NBA, the NFL, other things fogging up what's going around. It's all about football over here. Also as a young person, I've always wanted to travel the world and I never would have thought I'd live in Scotland at some point in my life, being from New York, living in D.C. for school. So definitely a big change. It was exciting for me.”

“I've watched MLS my whole life,” he added. “So many of my best friends play in MLS. I love watching it and I love seeing where it's heading. It definitely is somewhere where I want to play one day.”

When he was considering professional opportunities, Polvara was adamant that he did not want to join the “loan army” pathway to start his career. Instead, he wanted to go to a club where they could soon play first team minutes. With a tall 6’4” frame but also with enough skill on the ball to play as a central midfielder, Polvara was eager to take those first steps in Scotland.  

Aberdeen’s offer made the most sense and he signed for the club in January.

“I didn't want it to be a situation of signing somewhere just to be loaned. I wanted to go somewhere where I felt they needed me for something or that they had some sort of plan. And essentially that's what Aberdeen came along with.”

Almost as soon as he got there, he was sidelined as he needed surgery to repair a double hernia. Looking back, Polvara feels this was almost a “blessing in disguise” as during his recovery, it allowed him to adjust to life off field and living in a new country for the first time far away from his family and friends on the east coast of the United States.

When Polvara returned from his injury, Aberdeen was wrapping up a relatively disappointing season. The team had a managerial change during his time away and it finished the regular season in the bottom half, thereby forced to play in the relegation playoffs. Fortunately, there was no significant threat of relegation and new manager Jim Goodwin played him the final five games of the Premiership season.

In that time, Polvara made is professional debut.  

“You're playing for your livelihood,” Polvara recalled. “Guys were playing for contracts. You're playing to impress for next season and you're just playing for self-pride. You felt that from the fans. Like, it didn't matter that European football wasn't on the line. That didn't matter to them, expectations were still there.”

“I haven't seen the best of it,” Polvara added of last season. “I've seen a manager get sacked, a lot change in the club, I had a relatively long-term injury, and tough, tough losses. So unfortunately, it's not the very pretty side… But just being a part of those experiences, you see how passionate the fans are and see how much they care, and that's what makes you want to play.”

One of Polvara’s best friends on Aberdeen is fellow American Christian Ramirez who is Aberdeen’s starting central forward and was the team’s leading scorer last year with 16 goals across all competitions.

Ramirez, 31, is nine years older than Polvara and has also served as a mentor to his younger countryman. Ramirez is optimistic for Polvara’s chances for a breakout season in the year ahead.

“Dante has done really well,” Ramirez said. “He has a lot of potential and has quickly gotten up to speed as a professional. He has the capabilities to establish himself as a top box to box midfielder as he gets more games under his belt.”

The indications are that Polvara will get that chances this season. He has already appeared in Aberdeen’s last two League Cup wins this past month over lower league competition. Next weekend on July 31, Aberdeen will open its season with a difficult task in Glasgow against reigning champions Celtic.

Polvara’s development to this point has one that mixes both old and modern American pathways. He came through an MLS academy, as many top American players do right now, but he also played for his high school and then played in college – which were pathways more common of previous generations.

At NYCFC, he grew quickly as a player and became friends with Gio Reyna along with James and Will Sands. James Sands is one of his best friends and is also based in Scotland with Rangers. During that time, he trained with NYCFC’s first team during their preseasons

“I was very fortunate that NYCFC became a thing when it did,” Polvara said. “At the time I was playing for New York Soccer Club where we had amazing players as well, a great age group, which James [Sands] and Gio [Reyna] were also part of. I always wanted an MLS team. I was always a little bit jealous of these guys would say they're part of MLS academies.”

“I managed to attend both pre-seasons with two different managers who both had so much experience by playing or managing around some of the best players ever,” Polvara explained. “We never really had a mindset that we need to do whatever it takes to win. It was more let's play the right style of football… So that sort of winning culture and just the style of football, they play a very possession, technically demanding, quick thinking team and so exciting to be a part of.”


But instead of pursing professional opportunities as a teenager, Polvara opted for college. Even in recent years, the processional success of players such as Daryl Dike, Miles Robinson, Tajon Buchanan, and Jordan Morris shows that the collegiate game still produces solid players for the next level.

For Polvara, it is a personal and sometimes difficult decision players must ask themselves as young adults.

“Not everyone's ready at 16 to play professional,” Polvara said. “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 has grown a lot at Georgetown and now in his first months as a professional. With his first full season set to kickoff next weekend, the opportunity there for him to fully take off.

“Expectations for me, of course, are personally higher,” Polvara said.  “I've never really been satisfied with whatever the situation be. Starting those three games at the end of the season, even if they were games where essentially it didn't matter points-wise, it just makes you even hungrier right now with the commitment to want to be in the lineup, week in and week out.”

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