Former soccer phenom Marc Pelosi finds peace in Park City
Pelosi spent four years in Liverpool’s youth academy before a brief stint in the MLS
Marc Pelosi was sitting in the hospital watching his soccer career, his entire livelihood, teeter over the cliff’s edge. His mangled leg was so purple and swollen that his surgeon asked if he had been in a car accident.
Pelosi’s leg was suffering from compartment syndrome, a condition that occurs when an excessive amount of pressure builds up in the muscles. Compartment syndrome can decrease blood flow as well as cause muscle damage.
Doctors were measuring the amount of pressure in Pelosi’s leg every 30 minutes, and if it was too high, they had no choice but to cut the muscle open, likely ending Pelosi’s career. The pressure buildup reached the point where the doctors wanted to perform the procedure, but he begged to wait one more day.
“I couldn’t just give up my career that easily, and the next day (the pressure) started going down,” said Pelosi, who now lives in Park City.
He can still remember the incident, the build up to it and, ultimately, the aftermath.
Before the injury, Pelosi was at the top of his game, playing for English soccer giant Liverpool’s youth academy at 18 years old in 2013. He had just been included in Liverpool’s preliminary squad for a Europa League match (though he didn’t play) and had his sights laser-focused on a long career in Europe.
Pelosi spent the whole game dueling with an opposing player. The emotions from the battles throughout the game boiled over. Pelosi was carrying the ball forward before suffering a tackle from the opposing player that Pelosi described as “a tackle I’ve never really seen in a game.”
“Usually as a defender, you’re kind of jockeying or you tackle or you slide from the side or something like that,” Pelosi said. “But he just was kind of sprinting at me full speed as well and just jumped at me while I was running full speed and just went through my whole body.”
The fallout was brutal, even if Pelosi’s career wasn’t over as he sat in the hospital bed, looking at his injured leg. He fractured both bones in his leg, and it took him more than a year to fully recover instead of the usual eight months. A few months later, his time at Liverpool was over. By 2017, he had hung up the cleats for good.
Life in Park City
It took a long time for Pelosi, 27, to come to terms with how his soccer career unfurled. There was a lot of soul searching, and it took a while to figure out what to do once he knew that he couldn’t play professional soccer anymore. He started seeing a therapist to stay mentally healthy, but it took a couple of years to discover his next step.
Pelosi decided that he needed a change in scenery, so he and his girlfriend, Samantha Rosso, moved to Los Angeles for a couple years. When that didn’t work out, they searched for a more natural, remote location. Park City fit the bill, and they fell in love with the mountains.
In Park City, Pelosi finally found some peace. The physically active culture of Park City lent itself to Pelosi’s lifestyle, and he now spends his days mountain biking during the summer and skiing during the winter. He’s quick to point out that his No. 1 rule for mountain biking and skiing is to not get hurt again.
“Obviously, with his physical healing, he’s experienced a lot of fatigue,” Rosso said. “But being in nature, cycling, mountain biking, every single week and just hiking with dogs, just having more of a peaceful environment in nature has made us not only more at peace mentally, but also this is where we want to take our lives moving forward.”
But the move has also given Pelosi enough distance from the sport he loved to finally enjoy it again. For years, he wanted nothing to do with it in an attempt to move on from the what-ifs and the what-could-have-beens of his career.
Now, he’s come to terms with what happened, and has fallen back in love with the beautiful game. Pelosi started watching soccer again and playing fantasy soccer with friends, and he’ll admit that he’s addicted to playing “FIFA.”
“For the first two years in L.A., I just didn’t want anything to do with soccer, I was just kind of traumatized by it and wanted a break,” Pelosi said. “I always loved soccer, I loved everything about soccer, so I knew I had some stuff to heal. But it kind of showed me now that I’ve kind of gotten over the hump.”
Rosso has seen a change for the better in Pelosi as well as he transitioned to moving on from soccer.
“I think a big part of what happened to him is he kind of had an identity loss,” Rosso said. “Being a soccer player his whole life pretty much since he was born, that’s who he was. Having come here, you know, there isn’t that added mental stress of having to go on to do something else, but rather just enjoy being a person, being a human out in nature and enjoying life.”
Pelosi now feels like he’s ready to take the next step and finally lace up the cleats again. Pelosi and his girlfriend moved to Park City during the pandemic, and he’s hoping to join a league at some point. He just won’t tell anyone that he’s a former professional soccer player.
“My plan was not to say anything and see if people actually thought that I was still good,” Pelosi said with a laugh.
Once upon a time, there was no question about that.
Life abroad and at home
When Pelosi was a teenager, it wasn’t a stretch to say he was one of the best midfielders in the country in his age group.
He spent two years in Florida playing for the U.S. U-17 national team in preparation for the 2011 U-17 World Cup and was selected as team captain. The U.S. was eliminated in the round of 16 by Germany, Pelosi’s country of birth, with him on the bench because of a red card in the previous game.
But his play leading up to and at the World Cup drew the attention of clubs from all over Europe. Liverpool, Everton, Leeds United and Freiburg, a German club a little more than an hour away from Pelosi’s birthplace of Bad Säckingen, were all interested in him, but he opted to play at Liverpool.
After enduring a difficult transition to life in England — he begged his agent to send him back home within the first month — Pelosi gained a footing in Liverpool’s youth academy. But then the leg injury happened just two years into his stay at Liverpool.
When his deal with Liverpool expired, Pelosi knew that he needed both a change of scenery and a place where he could play. But most of all, he just wanted to go home.
The San Jose Earthquakes claimed Pelosi’s rights through Major League Soccer’s Allocation Ranking List in July 2015, and it seemed like a perfect fit at the time. Pelosi grew up in the area, and he felt like then-head coach Dominic Kinnear believed in him.
After joining the Quakes midway through the 2015 season, Pelosi made 12 appearances, including seven starts, and generally felt like he was playing the best soccer of his life.
Then the injury bug came back, this time in Pelosi’s other leg.
Pelosi suffered from chronic tendonitis in his left knee, and the injury wiped out his entire 2016 season. In 2017, he made four appearances with San Jose’s USL affiliate, but it was clear he wasn’t the same player he used to be, and that he never would be.
“It took the joy out of the game, you’re not explosive anymore, you’re playing with pain, you’re always constantly aware of your knee,” Pelosi said. “I was just physically and mentally drained and not doing well, and I was like, ‘I need to just call it and live my life,’ because there’s more to life than just soccer.”
There’s an alternate timeline where Pelosi never breaks his leg the first time, and it took time to stomach that. Right before the game where the injury occurred, he was invited to a camp for the U.S. U-20 team, but Liverpool refused to let him leave. There’s always the thought that if the club had let him attend the camp, he never would have broken his leg and would have gone on to a much longer, more successful career.
But a significant part of Pelosi’s time in Park City has been about finding peace and moving on from what could have been. Life in the mountains has made him realize that there was always more to life than just soccer.
“I think as cheesy as it is, everything happened for a reason,” Pelosi said. “You know, where I am today, I’m happy where I am. It’s not easy what happened, and a lot of my friends are still playing at the high level. But I still get to enjoy soccer in my capacity, enjoying my life mountain biking and skiing.
“But yeah, you know, there was definitely a trajectory I would have been on if I didn’t break my leg, and I guess the sky was the limit for that.”
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