After six players were released by Valley United FC, the Flagler Palm Coast grad got to show what he can do.
Soccer is in Nate Monsanto’s blood.
Eventually, he might become a soccer coach — like his father, Reg, or his brother, Nick.
But at 24, Nate’s not ready to hang up his cleats.
And on May 19, the former Flagler Palm Coast and Stetson University center midfielder showed why.
After sitting on the Valley United FC bench for the first two months of the season, Monsanto got his first start and played the entire game, helping his team battle to a 1-1 tie against Albion San Diego, despite playing a man down for about 80 minutes.
“We had a player get a red card in the first 10 minutes,” Monsanto said in a phone interview from Phoenix. “We were strong in our defense. It was a crazy first game for me to play in. But I’m glad I finally got a chance.”
It was a crazy situation that provided him that chance. His team’s general manager and coach resigned over alleged immigration law violations and six international players were released.
The new head coach, Dani De Oliveira, was the assistant coach who brought Monsanto to Arizona.
“It’s a blessing in disguise for me. I’m now getting the chance I think I deserved earlier in the season. Now I have to run with it.”
“It’s a blessing in disguise for me,” Monsanto said. “I’m now getting the chance I think I deserved earlier in the season. Now I have to run with it.”
Valley United FC plays in the National Independent Soccer Association, which is on the third tier of U.S. professional soccer behind MLS and USL Championship. USL League One and NISA are on the same level. Monsanto participated in a combine in Orlando in December and was invited to Phoenix to try out for the team. After two weeks of tryouts in January, living out of a duffel bag, he made the team.
Now a starter as a defensive center mid on a professional team, Monsanto’s roller coaster career is taking another twist.
A coaching change also gave Monsanto’s college career a boost.
Christian Neagu was named Stetson’s head coach before Monsanto’s senior season in 2018.
“Nate didn’t play a ton his first years, but he fit our system,” said Emmett Rutkowski, who was an assistant coach in 2018-19 before taking over as Stetson’s head coach in 2020.
“Nate played a little as a junior,” Rutkowski said. "He was a captain and he really wanted to make it work his last year. In the spring we had a points competition, and he won the competition. That transformed his career. He was a huge catalyst for us on a team that went to the ASUN (conference) final. He was a real gritty box-to-box center mid.”
Monsanto is a third-generation soccer player. His grandfather played for the Suriname national team. His father and brother also played in college before becoming coaches. Nate believed he was good enough to play on the next level.
He played semipro soccer for Daytona SC in 2019. In 2020, he had professional tryouts scheduled in Europe, first in Finland and then in Iceland. He never made it to Iceland. The emerging pandemic forced him to take the first flight back to Orlando.
He trained on his own the next two years. He also helped Rutkowski as a volunteer assistant coach in 2021.
“As a coach he was able to see the game much slower. He was very good at seeing scenarios, giving players good advice on how to adapt. When he stops playing, he'll be a phenomenal coach,” Rutkowski said.
Meanwhile, Monsanto was staying in shape, preparing for his next opportunity.
“It was incredible to see how motivated and driven he was. He was training when a lot of people were giving up. I’m looking forward to him playing a big role for his team.”
EMMETT RUTKOWSKI, Stetson soccer coach
“It was incredible to see how motivated and driven he was. He was training when a lot of people were giving up," Rutkowski said. “I’m looking forward to him playing a big role for his team.”
Valley United FC was forced to forfeit its first six games after the coach and GM resignations. The team still has 19 games left in the season, starting with an East Coast swing to the Syracuse Pulse on June 1 and at Flower City Union in Rochester, New York, three days later.
“I think we showed we're a good team. And I think I did enough to take that spot,” Monsanto said. “I think the rest of the season I’m going to play a lot.”
Monsanto hopes to move up the soccer ladder, perhaps get a tryout with a USL Championship team next year or try to go overseas again. He feels like he has to make up for two lost years.
“If soccer takes me to Mexico, South America or Europe, I’ll gladly go and learn more about the game, learn about the people,” Monsanto said. “It’s the beautiful game. It’s the world’s game.”