One year after leaving State College as one of the most decorated soccer players Penn State has ever produced, Aaron Molloy is ready for a new challenge in Wisconsin.
The 24-year-old transferred to Forward Madison FC of USL League One, the third tier in the American professional soccer pyramid.
Molloy, affectionately dubbed the “Irish Messi,” is known for his ability to pick apart the other teams’ defenses with his ball control and eye for the through ball. Madison coach Carl Craig wants him to be no different than the tenacious Nittany Lion was named 2019 Big Ten Midfielder of the Year.
“When I spoke to the new coach, the culture that he was creating, the environment he wanted to set in Madison was something I wanted to be a part of,” Molloy said. “He wants me in the heart of midfield. He wants me to be the ball-playing midfielder, breaking lines with my passes.”
Moving to the third tier is certainly a step down for Molloy, who was one of the bright spots for Portland Timbers 2 of the second tier in 2020. Molloy’s first professional club had a tough season, finishing at the bottom of its conference, but the Irishman learned a lot from the MLS affiliate.
“Being a professional footballer is something I always wanted to be. I was so happy to be waking up every day to go play soccer,” Molloy said. “Some fixtures didn’t go out way, it wasn’t a winning season, but I learned a lot as a player.”
Molloy was a consistent starter for Timbers 2 last season, recording a goal and assist in 15 matches played. After he moved a league down the American pecking order, common wisdom says the midfielder will be the star in the Great Lakes. From the looks of it, Forward Madison sure thinks he is a marquee signing based on the extensive coverage of Molloy the week he was signed.
For Molloy himself, it is all about development.
“I feel as though I’m still fairly young, I’ve got a lot to prove, mostly to myself,” Molloy said. “I want to go down to League One with Madison and enjoy my football and win a trophy.”
Forward Madison is sure to be an attractive spot to land, especially when fans are back in attendance. USL League One sides don’t have the biggest fanbases, but the “Mingos” have one of the most passionate. The Wisconsin club had the highest average attendance of anyone in the league in 2019, and many of the fans have obvious excitement about signing an MLS SuperDraft first-round pick.
“I’ve been to Madison before, I love the city,” Molloy said. “The community there was really something that grabbed my attention.”
Last season, Forward Madison FC finished seventh of 11 teams in the league table. That wasn’t a very high ranking, considering it is a more well-known club in a lesser-known league.
Meanwhile, Molloy’s former Penn State teammate Noah Pilato won the title with Greenville Triumph. Pilato has been important in welcoming Molloy to his new league.
“There’s a lot of lads in the league,” Molloy said. “I’ve talked to Noah. We’d love to play for each other a few years down the line. He’s a great help in the transition to League One.”
The 2021 USL League One season is tentatively scheduled to begin in early May, a delayed start due to the coronavirus pandemic. Regardless of the landscape of professional sports in a few months, Molloy is ready to get back to splitting defensive lines.
“I’m most excited about going out and playing soccer. It’s something I love doing. It’s something I want to do for as long as I can, to play in front of the amazing fans and the community,” Molloy said.