With the 16th season of Major League Soccer underway, MLSsoccer.com looks back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made the league what it is today. We continue our "What Ever Happened To..." series with former Colorado Rapids striker and Panamanian national-team star Jorge Dely Valdés.
Where He Was Then
Dely Valdés became the first Panamanian in MLS history in 1999, and was a tenacious forward for the Colorado Rapids over two seasons, scoring 17 goals in 52 games and helping his team reach the 1999 US Open Cup final. He also received 34 caps for his national team, scoring 13 goals between 1990 and 2005, including two that helped Panama reach a historic CONCACAF Gold Cup final in 2005 against the US.
Where He Is Now
After leaving Colorado at the end of 2000, Dely Valdés played for another two seasons in Japan before a short stint with his first professional club, Uruguayan side Nacional.
The forward hung up his boots after joining Árabe Unido in his native Panama and having one last memorable Gold Cup in 2005.
From then on, Dely Valdés started his career as a coach, joining his twin brother, Julio, and his older brother, Armando, a step that seemed natural for three men considered to be Panama’s most prolific players. Sadly, Armando died in 2001 after suffering a heart attack at age 40. Árabe Unido’s stadium is named after him.
The twin brothers continued their work with the Panamanian national team, and Jorge became the coach for the U-17 team while Juan took the reins of the senior side. Over the last two years, Jorge has worked with the young prospects and firmly believes that Panamanian soccer is on the rise. He'll coach the Panama side at this summer's U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
“We have done some important work in the last two years,” he recently told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Panama. “The young teams have performed well internationally, and that’s very important for our future.”
Still, logging long hours for his team hasn’t stopped Dely Valdés from keeping up with what’s going on in MLS. Although he admits he would like to follow the league a little bit closer, the ex-Rapids forward says he was very proud to see his former club lift the MLS Cup last November.
“I remember my time in Colorado as something very dear to me,” he said. “I hope that I can go back there and visit soon. Being the first Panamanian in the league is something that has a lot of meaning to me.”
And even though he acknowledges the growth MLS has enjoyed in recent years, Dely Valdés is the first to point out that the league was always good, especially during his time in Colorado.
“The league has advanced a lot,” he said. “But let’s not forget that back in the day there were world-class players in MLS like Lothar Matthäus, ‘El Pibe’ Valderrama and [Adolfo] ‘El Tren’ Valencia, who brought a lot of expectations from the league. I came to a team with players who had a lot of experience, having played in the ’94 World Cup.”
Now Dely Valdés is staring at a new challenge with the Panamanian set-up. As head coach of the U-17 squad and assistant coach for the senior team, he serves as a bridge between success at the youth level and the main side. And the checklist of goals begins this summer – at every level.
“We want to do a great job in the Gold Cup,” Dely Valdés said. “We are now working towards getting better and set a standard of qualifying to World Cups, as we have done – to an extent – with our youth system.
"Now we have to do it with the senior team, so we can go to the World Cup for the first time in our country’s history.”
What They Said
“He is a great person, he was a great teammate. From a production standpoint, he was definitely someone who came in and scored a lot of goals. He was certainly a physical player; he was a big guy. The thing that really stood out for me was his ability in the air, in the box. That was a quality that impressed me. His ability to finish plays with his head had an absolutely great technique and power.”
– Paul Bravo, former Rapids teammate