Michael Vang took his higher education classes in Portugese.
Vang, Forward Madison’s new 19-year-old midfielder, had committed to Pacific University in early 2018, but didn’t end up attending. Instead, faced with the choice of a lifetime, he decided to pursue a dream: Going pro in the sport he loves.
Now that Vang has signed his first professional contract, he might soon be able to look back on that choice with an air of justification. Still, this moment was never guaranteed, and Vang had to prove himself every step of the way to get there. This is the story of how Michael Vang found his potential in Portugal.
“It was difficult because I was giving a scholarship up, but playing pro is something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid,” Vang remembers. “I wanted to at least try and do it.”
When Michael Vang made the choice to forgo a college career and instead move to Portugal in 2018, he knew he would face some challenges. Vang had signed for Sociedade União 1º Dezembro, which plays in the Portugese third division, but was assigned to the club’s U-19 team. Upon arrival, Vang said he had to learn a lot about his surroundings.
“It was tough over there, especially because of the culture, the language barrier,” he said. “It was hard over there to adapt.”
Along with the task of integrating into a foreign country, Vang also had to deal with a more unexpected difficulty: Portugese prejudice against American soccer players. Months later, one coach told Vang that he had initially discounted him because of it.
“[The coach] came up to me and was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to lie, when I heard there was a kid from the United States, I thought without seeing you play already that you weren’t good,’” Vang said. “I was already looked down on when I got there. That made me stronger mentally to work harder and prove people wrong.”
Slowly, Vang found his place. He made friends with other players who spoke English and picked up a bit of Portugese on the side. Although he admits that the language barrier was the hardest test to overcome, Vang said that once he got used to the culture, he started enjoying it.
With one difficulty out of the way, Vang next had to show that he was good enough to cut it on the soccer field - even if he was American. After about a month, his game started to pick up. Vang is a playmaker, adept at using his skill and creativity on the ball to get past opponents, and with his talent on full display, Vang found he could stand out from the rest of the pack.
“I gained respect from my teammates and coaches,” Vang said. “They even came up to me and they were like, ‘You can play here. You’re no different.’”
Even the coach who had once dismissed Vang, citing his American background, had to admit that he was impressed. In thee end, he told Vang that he had proved him wrong.
Vang earned a spot on 1º Dezembro's roster in 2019, playing three games in the Portugese third division
Despite his strong start, Vang struggled with several injuries during his first year with 1º Dezembro’s U-19 squad. Eventually, though, he found his stride, and by the time the season ended in May, the club’s first team coaches had taken notice.
At the same time Forward Madison was taking off during its first summer of soccer, Michael Vang was making his own strides on the other side of the world.
“I did really well with the U-19s and that’s why I got pulled up to the first team,” Vang said. “I did preseason with them.”
On July 28, Vang was on the roster for 1º Dezembro’s preseason friendly against fellow third-tier club FC Alverca. With his team losing 3-1 in the final moments of stoppage time, Vang finally got the chance he’d been waiting for.
Standing just outside of Alverca’s 18-yard box, Vang watched as a teammate on the left-hand end of pitch looped a high cross into the area. Alverca’s goalkeeper came out to punch it, but collided with a defender, and the ball came loose towards Vang.
One bounce. Vang steadied himself.
Two bounces. Vang curled his right leg behind him, building up energy.
In a flash, the ball was rippling the white strings in the back of the net.
“I really don’t know how I felt at that moment,” Vang said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘I just scored my first goal of the first team.’”
After the game, one of Vang’s teammates informed him that the match had been shown live on TV. When he got home that night, Vang couldn’t stop watching it.
“I kept replaying that goal over and over,” he said
Vang ended up playing in several more preseason matches for 1º Dezembro and actually scored a second time. When the season kicked off in August, Vang was part of the roster, and ended up starting three games in the Portugese third division.
Michael Vang had to prove that an American soccer player could keep up during his time with 1º Dezembro in Portugal
Making It in Madison
Despite working his way up to the first team, Vang left 1º Dezembro in January to go back to the United States. For a 19-year-old without much domestic playing experience beyond Shattuck St. Mary’s academy in Minnesota, Vang was an unknown quantity for most talent scouts.
In fact, it was his brother who helped him even attract the eyes of Forward Madison’s coaching staff. Brian Vang, who was a senior on the soccer team at UW-Green Bay in 2019, asked his head coach, Jeremy Bonomo, to tell FMFC assistant Neil Hlavaty to add Michael to the team’s invite combine.
“I’ve got to thank Brian,” Vang said. “Without him and Jeremy, I wouldn’t have gotten into this.”
At the combine, Vang did what he does best, showing off the technique he had honed in Portugal and helping his teammates push forward. Head coach Daryl Shore spotted his talent, and it wasn’t long until the Flamingos had offered Vang a contract.
“It’s just trying to be positive about everything, so that’s what I tried to do,” Vang said. “Play your own game and don’t let anything or anybody distract you from doing what you do best. I think that’s what I went by.”
With his Forward Madison deal now signed, Vang knows that he will have to prove himself once again. But for a player who has already overcome many doubters in his young career, he knows that this is just the way it goes. And Michael Vang is ready.
Season tickets for Forward Madison FC’s 2020 season are now available! Get yours by calling 608-204-0855 or visit https://www.forwardmadisonfc.com/season-tickets.