New Notre Dame head coach Chad Riley’s first high-profile verbal commitment for the 2019 class is one of the top midfielder prospects in the Philadelphia Union Academy.
Michael Pellegrino, of Wenonah, N.J., made public his college decision this week after a lengthy recruiting process that drew interest from many of the top teams in college soccer.
“I just loved everything about it,” the 17-year-old said on Wednesday. “I knew when I was on campus that it was a place I could see myself. I realized when I was there that I wanted to be a part of the program and help win a championship with them.”
Pellegrino didn’t initially consider the ACC school as an option, but when Riley left Dartmouth to take the job at his alma mater in January following the retirement of long-time head coach Bobby Clark, the Irish quickly rose to the top of Pellegrino’s list.
It certainly didn’t hurt Riley and his staff’s case having coached Pellegrino’s former academy teammates Dawson McCartney and Tiger Graham at Dartmouth.
“It was nice to get inside knowledge from [Dawson and Tiger] about the coaches and how they trained,” he said. “Both Dawson and Tiger were really positive.”
Pellegrino visited both Notre Dame and Indiana University on a recruiting trip in late February. Classmate Brenden Aaronson had at the time already verbally committed to Indiana for 2019.
While in South Bend, Pellegrino didn’t get to see the soccer team train or play but did take in a hockey game and got a taste of campus life bunking up with fellow New Jersey native and standout central midfielder Tommy McCabe.
“The atmosphere and the school spirit and the history and tradition that Notre Dame has I’m really looking forward to,” he said. “Even in the winter, the campus looks amazing.”
Notre Dame has been consistently one of the top programs in college soccer over the past several seasons, especially the year the program was crowned national champions for the first time at then-PPL Park back in 2013. The draw of the ACC, consistently college soccer’s toughest conference, was also understandably an attractive feature.
“I want to play against the best competition I can and I’ll get to do that playing against teams like Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina and others,” he said.
As with all of the top prospects in the Union Academy, it’s necessary to stress the verbal aspect of Pellegrino’s Notre Dame commitment. As a player who earned minutes with Bethlehem Steel FC at 16 and was invited to preseason with the first team in Florida in February, Pellegrino’s dream of playing professionally could become a reality before he makes it to South Bend next fall. Of the five current homegrowns on the first team roster, only Mark McKenzie went to college, playing just one season at Wake Forest last fall.
Primarily a holding midfielder, Pellegrino has also spent time playing center back in the Development Academy and even played a little right back with Bethlehem Steel FC in preseason. He wore the armband for much of the Union U17s Generation adidas Cup campaign this past year and was one of three academy players, along with Aaronson and goalkeeper Tomas Romero, invited to preseason training camp in Florida with the first team.