Former ZCHS Grad A.J. Corrado Drafted by MLS
By Ray Compton
As Sam Corrado watched his youngest son play soccer against his older brother and sister in the family backyard almost 20 years ago, he had the feeling there could be something special someday about the 3-year-old A.J.
“He showed real interest in playing soccer at such an early age,” remembered Sam. “He was so advanced. He was kicking the ball even when he could barely walk.”
And, now, two decades later, little A.J. has sprouted from a backyard player in Zionsville to a stalwart at Indiana University and to a probable professional career with the San Jose Earthquakes of the Major Soccer League. After being selected in the third round of the 2013 draft by San Jose, Corrado has been in training with the Earthquakes in California as the team prepares for its March 9 opener.
“It’s the next level,” assessed the younger Corrado. “Every player is that much better. You have to adapt, but I am enjoying the process. It’s exciting stepping out of your comfort zone.”
Corrado has been comfortable on a soccer field since being a toddler in Cincinnati. His backyard foes were brother Sam Jr. and sister Torey. The Corrado family moved to Indianapolis when little Sam was 5 and he and his siblings assimilated into the Zionsville Youth Soccer Association.
“He just loved to play the game,” said Sam Sr., a retired executive, who moved with his wife, Criss Corrado, to a condominium in Indianapolis to downsize from their Zionsville home. “He couldn’t get enough soccer.”
The exhausting affinity for the game included his high school days. Not only did A.J. play for the Carmel United USSF Academy National Championship teams in 2008 and 2009, but he also played fall soccer at Zionsville High School. He was the 2010 Indiana Gatorade High School Player of the Year and was a 2010 ESPN Rise first-team All-American.
And he was part of a state championship team at Zionsville. Corrado, Harrison Petts and Dylan Mares (future teammates at Indiana University) led the Eagles to the 2009 championship.
“We had a blast,” recalled Corrado. “Zionsville was a perfect place to grow up. I had a great group of friends and I couldn’t have been happier.”
But before the championship conquest in 2009 there was the heartbreaking loss in the 2008 title match with Evansville Memorial. Memorial outlasted the Eagles in penalty kicks (5-4) and eclipsed Zionsville, 3-2.
“It hurt,” Corrado said. “But we were determined to come back as seniors.”
And the Eagles lived up to the lofty expectations placed on them in the fall of 2009.
“They [Zionsville] were a very, very strong team,” said Sam Corrado Sr. “There was a lot of expectations, but the boys lived up to it. Sometimes you don’t know how high school players will respond. But they did.”
It would not be the last time that Corrado would be required to bounce back from disappointment. He chose to continue his career at Southern Methodist University, but the stay was short-lived. He transferred to Indiana University after a semester and never looked back.
“I just had a great experience at Indiana,” said Corrado, a starter on the 2012 Hoosier team that won Indiana’s eighth NCAA championship. “It was a great time with great people.”
Still, there was some disappointment. The 2013 Hoosiers won the Big Ten tournament, but finished only 8-11-2 and got rubbed out by Akron in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Despite the team disappointment, Corrado enjoyed a solid personal season. He was named second team all-Big 10 and was third team on the Capital One Academic All-District team. His game-tying goal lifted Indiana to a critical overtime victory over Michigan in the Big Ten tournament.
After the season, Corrado reported to an MSL draft combine in Florida.
“We played a couple of games and I met with a few teams,” Corrado said. “I didn’t know when or where I would go in the draft, but when four or five teams were selecting, I thought there would be a chance.”
His name was called by San Jose in the third round. Indiana and Carmel United teammate Nikta Kotlov was selected in the fourth round by the Portland Timbers. Mares is on trial with Real Salt Lake. All three hope to join 12 other Hoosiers who are playing in the MSL.
Indiana coach Todd Yeagley — son of legendary Hoosier soccer coach Jerry Yeagley — believes his midfielder has a bright future in professional soccer.
“A.J. sees the game very well, is very intelligent as a player and is a very technical player with the ball,” Yeagley said. “Good things happen when he has the ball. He is a playmaker.”
One area that Yeagley believes that will need some improvement by Corrado is playing without the ball. “He needs to work on moving without the ball,” the coach said. “He needs to cover more ground when he doesn’t have the ball. But A.J. knows what he has to do.”
“You have to adjust,” noted Corrado, who went through two-a-day practices in San Jose. “The game is faster and more physical. To become a professional player, you have to be good at everything.”
Back in Indianapolis, his father and mother see promise. They watched the Earthquakes’ preseason games on the Internet.
“We thought he played super,” Dad said. “We have our fingers crossed.”