Nine years ago, a player with a bright future in professional soccer was ecstatic just to make the DeKalb High School varsity team.
Hellah Sidibe had moved permanently from Mali to DeKalb in 2004, where his parents each earned their Ph. D. at Northern Illinois University, and he was one of just a few freshmen to make the team. Still, he didn’t think a professional career was in the cards during his days as a Barb.
“If you were to tell me this was happening, I would have never believed it,” Sidibe said. “At DeKalb, playing soccer was just a fun thing. Making varsity as a freshman was a big deal.”
After finishing his senior season at the University of Massachusetts last fall, Sidibe began his journey to become a professional player, which has hit a few bumps in the road. Before the MLS draft, Sidibe said members of the Sporting Kansas City staff approached him and told him they were interested in selecting him.
His name was never called on draft night because, he said, there were complications with his status as an international player. MLS teams are allowed only a certain number of international players.
So Sidibe went to play for the Seattle-based Kitsap Pumas, which plays in the Premier Development League, a league primarily made up of college players with some older players mixed in.
Kitsap is under the same ownership as MLS club Seattle Sounders, so the left midfielder received valuable experience training in a professional environment and even playing an exhibition against the Sounders, which he thinks opened some eyes.
“They said, ‘Take this kid out because he’s running the left side,’ ” Sidibe said. “I knew that was a good thing because they know, somebody that can hurt them, they can use themselves. It was pretty good, I worked on everything.”
Sidibe played in 11 games for Kitsap in the PDL, where he played the previous summer and was named Player of the Year for the Boston Victory.
Now, Sidibe said he has options. He said Arminia Bielefeld of the 2 Bundesliga, the German second division, offered him a contract, but the visa process has held him back from signing a contract thus far. Americans who play in the 2 Bundesliga are usually on the national team radar, so the offer blew him away.
“I couldn’t even believe it myself,” he said. “After that, it gave me a little more confidence that, basically, anything is possible. You just have to keep working hard.”
The door may be still open for him in Kansas City, where he said he’ll head this week to train with hopes of picking up a contract offer.
His goals, though, go beyond even playing in the MLS or Germany. Sidibe hopes to be respected as one of the best at his position, and he aspires to represent the Malian national team someday.
“I want to be one of the best left-sided midfielders in the country,” he said. “I’ve had people say that to me and I’ve had agents come to me and say they see that. I can hear people talking even before I get onto the field, ‘Be careful of this kid, he’s really dangerous on the left.’ All of this, it’s more humbling, and I want to prove them right.”