Will Daniels had a decent college career at Quinnipiac University, but was held to playing in PDL to try to break into his professional career. He started with Kitsap Pumas, where he put a hurting on the number one defense in the country, the University of Washington, during a preseason matchup in 2013. Despite earning praise from Huskies assistant coach Craig Waibel, winner of four MLS Cups, after the game, nothing else was drummed up for Will for the rest of the season
It ended up being a success in a certain way though for Will, as he learned about SoccerViza through the connections he made while playing for Kitsap.
"I’d heard about Joe through a friend, Brandon Scott,” Will told SoccerViza.
"I knew Brandon was a good player and he got a contract in Iceland, and his team won promotion. I said to myself, “Why is he getting it, and I’m not?” I talked to him and he said SoccerViza and Joe Funicello.”
Will was struggling at that point, trying to find a break into the professional game. PDL wasn’t yielding results, USL and MLS weren’t interested, and it was up to him to carve out his own path.
"My dad sat me down and he said to me, "if you don’t find a team, you need to find a job.”
"He asked me who the guy is who’s going to get you to the next level. I said, "I think it’s Joe Funicello. It has to be him, he’s helped all these players. If it’s not him, I’ll give up.”
That led Will to his first combine. He was coming off of an injury and knew that his fitness wasn’t what it should be in order to get called into a team, but he took away advice and feedback from SoccerViza staff that geared him up for another combine. And then another, when that became necessary as well.
“After the second combine, I knew I was getting closer because some teams were starting to talk about me. I know I didn’t do enough to fully convince them, but I knew that I was getting closer, and just needed to work on the mental preparation for my next opportunity. Once again, I got feedback to work with, and that led to getting my opportunity with Aegir down the road.”
There was no hesitation for Will in taking the opportunity with a smaller club in Iceland’s second division, a league that many players in the United States would look down upon as not being glamorous enough, competitive enough, or high paying enough to give their attention and efforts to. It was different for Will though, because he knew that it could be a launch pad into something bigger, something sustainable, and something that could help him carve out his own career.
“If someone gives me a chance, I’m going to take it. I don’t care where it is, what the team is, or where the country is. What mattered to me was that someone saw potential in me, and they were willing to take a chance on some American kid who had no credentials besides PDL. I was ready to take my shot and run away with it.”
That ended up being the difference for Will when comparing him to so many players in the United States who are unwilling to leave their comfort zone to chase an opportunity. In most cases, there has to be an element of desperate hunger found within a player in order to get off the ground. Players who wait for the opportunity to arrive on a silver platter, their key to top flight play, are almost exclusively going to end up waiting until their bodies can’t play anymore.
The thing about Will is that he recognized this. He gave PDL a go because it was an opportunity at the time that may have worked something out for him in the future. He recognized that it wasn’t going to work, and that led to other paths. There’s no time to waste when the shelf life of a player gets shorter and shorter every year, and your window of getting into the professional game gets smaller the older you get.
Will trialled with and signed with KF Aegir, and he went on to become a dominant force in Iceland’s second division, winning Team MVP, finishing third in the league in scoring, and getting attention from bigger clubs. Pride did not get in the way - pride drove him to accomplish something, to create something out of what so many other players would view as nothing.
“Looking back at it, it was absolutely the right choice. It gave me the opportunity to secure another year of professional football, whether it was with the same team or with another team, which I ended up doing. You have to start somewhere, especially in a new country. If it’s the third division… in order to get to the first, you have to do that. You’re not going to get to go straight to the first division every time. You’ll never get the dream contract on your first try. I knew that if I wanted to get to the first level, I was okay with starting at the third. I’m not afraid to put in the work and prove myself.”
The work paid off, as Will signed a contract with Grindavik, a team historically playing in Iceland’s Premier League, but down in the first division in recent years. It’s been a sensation season for Will and the club, as they have been dominant on both ends of the pitch to establish themselves at the top of the table, and poised to return to the Pepsi League.
For Will, so much of the team’s fortunes have hinged upon his own - he was out with injury to start the season, missing several games. The team was frayed at the edges at times, and dropped points where they typically would not. Enter a consistently healthy Will Daniels into the starting lineup though, and the team has been undefeated ever since, with seven wins, three draws, and a +22 goal differential. Will has been instrumental in that stretch, collecting 6 goals and 3 assists to climb among the Top 10 in the league in both categories.
The team is buzzing, and Will is buzzing along with them. None of that would be possible if it hadn’t been the steps that he was willing to take in order to achieve his goal, which was, and still is, playing at the highest possible level.
“If you’re hesitant to take the chance, then either you’re afraid to put in the work, afraid to start at a level that you think you’re better than, or you don’t want it as bad as you think you do. It’s as simple as that. Because if you wanted it as bad as I do, or the guy next to me on the field, then you start in the fifth division if you have to.”
So what’s next for Will, after putting his stamp on Iceland for the second straight season? His personal goals are to grow as a leader, to see if he can earn the captain’s armband for the first time, and be the emotional leader for the team on and off the field, not just as a goal scorer and playmaker. It’s about continuing to establish himself as a professional so that he becomes a veteran that younger players can look up to and take inspiration from.
Meanwhile, there are still plenty of players sitting back in the United States, playing PDL and NPSL year after year, watching their career slip by as they wait for the perfect opportunity to take advantage of.
Will is succeeding, making a living playing soccer, because he was willing, able, and did take the opportunities that came, regardless of how shiny, how polished, or how prestigious it was, or was not.
He went to Aegir. He succeeded. He climbed up the ladder to Grindavik. He is still succeeding. And wherever he ends up next season, whether he stays with Grindavik or goes elsewhere… he will succeed again. Because Will lives by the message that if you want something bad enough, you go and get it. You don’t let other people dictate what is possible for you.
He’s carving out his own destiny, and his future looks brighter than ever.