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Aaron Molloy: The Dubliner dreaming of turning his burning MLS ambition into reality

From Dublin to the cusp of the MLS, Aaron Molloy is dreaming big.

Aaron Molloy comes from a fine footballing breed of talent, and grew up in Dublin’s north inner-city alongside several ‘street-footballers’, as Eamonn Dunphy would put it.

But the son of League of Ireland great Trevor, Aaron, is forging his own career off in the United States; swapping Drogheda United for Penn State, and then the USL a couple of years later.

Molloy, 24, has experienced more than most in the US; with a move to Portland Timbers in 2020 signifying his first real shot at the MLS, but the Covid-19 pandemic would put pay to that dream.

Now at Forward Madison, Molloy is eyeing a return to those previous heights as 2022 looms, after he found his feet in the professional ranks across the Atlantic in 2021.

Aaron Molloy: A new beginning.

In 2020, Molloy joined MLS giants Portland Timbers second-string, with a view to joining the club’s first-team set-up.

Aaron Molloy

But as mentioned, fate conspired against that.

“Last year didn’t really go as well as I had planned,” he tells Pundit Arena. “Forward Madison were good enough to give me the opportunity to showcase what I can do [again] and they believed in me.

“We just missed out on the playoffs but I’m back enjoying football and I’m back to being myself. I got a couple goals and assists, while being one of the key players for the team. I’m really enjoying it at the moment.

Aaron Molloy

“It just wasn’t meant to be at Portland Timbers. I’ve moved on, and taken it on the chin. And here I am now back to enjoying my football. I have that fire in my belly to go out and perform, and move up the leagues again.”

Aaron Molloy: The big move.

When he was 19, Molloy made the big move to the United States in search of full-time education – while also combining his studies with, essentially, full-time football.

That was after he previously played League of Ireland football with Drogheda United, attending the prestigious Penn State University.

But that was only after the Dubliner took part in the FAI’s FAS course training programme in Cabra, under course director Harry McCue.

“I took a gap year after finishing school,” he explains. “I went straight into the FAI FAS course, but I didn’t really take school too seriously at the time before I went there.

“But once I took that gap year I realised how important education really is, and it was then when I started looking at different avenues. My results weren’t good enough to get into college at home.

Aaron Molloy

“So I had to take this SAT exam that helped me get to where to I wanted to go, and thankfully I got the results that I needed to get into college.”

But it was only after his FAI FAS course when the former Bohemians U19 star was pointed in the direction of a move to the US. And he has never looked back since.

“I got a scholarship to move over to the States,” he explains. “When I was at the FAI FAS course with Harry McCue, he was fantastic with me, and he put me in contact with Alan McCann, who has also been a huge influence on me.

“Ever since then, Alan’s been taking care of me, and I still talk to him to this day. He brought me to a small school in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“But he [Alan] took me out after a year to give me the best chance of being a professional. I was going to school, I was enjoying life, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to move up to a professional team from the school.

“So Alan found me another school, which was Penn State. That happens to be one of the best universities in the world.

“And from there, I continued my studies, and also played a high level of football. It was a no-brainer.”

Aaron Molloy: A footballing family.

Growing up, Molloy was always a keen footballer, and in truth, that gene probably came from his father, Trevor.

Trevor, who was a League of Ireland legend in his own right, played with distinction for Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic.

But Aaron, his son, never saw his father’s past as a barrier to his own career journey.

Trevor Molloy

“It gave me confidence,” Aaron explained. “People will always be like I’m only playing because of this and that. But I wanted to create my own path.

“I didn’t want to stay in the League of Ireland forever, and I wanted to see what opportunities were out there. I’m a professional footballer, and I didn’t want any favours, I wanted to do it all myself.

Aaron Molloy Drogheda

“I feel as though I’ve worked hard enough to get all my opportunities; and I took all my opportunities when I was back home. But my Dad definitely has helped me a lot.

“He’ll be pretty blunt with me, but I want someone to give it to me straight and and not beat things around the bush.”

MLS dreams.

After impressing in college football in the US, Molloy went on to become one of a select few to be picked to go for MLS trials, with a host of big clubs interested in his signature.

And it was then when he put pen to paper on a deal with Portland Timbers, with former Premier League boss Bob Bradley a keenly interested observer watching on at the time.

Bob Bradley

“So what happened was they pick the best 40 to 40 players for a combine,” he explained. “All the top MLS coaches were there, like Bob Bradley and all them, watching you train and playing games.

“Throughout the weekend, the MLS teams would reach out to the league on your behalf if they wanted to have an interview with you.

“I had four interviews with MLS teams before the game on Sunday, and I did really well in the game. And then after the game I had four more after doing well, it was the experience of a lifetime.”

Following footsteps.

Molloy ended up signing for Portland Timbers second string, before a combination of Covid-19 and other variables went against the Dubliner.

And while his first shot at the MLS did not go the way he would have liked, he can still look at the likes of Zack Steffen – Man City’s second-choice goalkeeper – and fellow Irishman Jon Gallagher who have made the step up to the MLS from the collegiate system.

But for now, the Dubliner is biding his time to wait for his next opportunity. That is, of course, after he impressed for Forward Madison in the USL League One in 2021.

“I want to challenge myself as much as possible,” he adds. “I feel as though I’ve had a good enough year this year to potentially move up next year.

“The off-season is going to be really interesting to see what see what opportunities come up.

“I definitely want to move up. Like everyone else, I’m hungry to play at the highest level that I can possibly play at.”

For now, however, Molloy must wait until that next step presents itself, but it is not far away.

And for a man who is leading the way in terms of new player pathways for young Irish players; his fascinating journey is one that should be closely monitored.

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