At first glance, he appears unassuming, quiet and soft spoken, but with the ball at his feet he transforms into a gazelle with a deft touch. It is his incredible ability with the ball that has garnered Mikkel Rohde Pedersen a lot of acclaim.
Pedersen left Denmark for the United States in August 2015 after playing for Varde IF, a Danish football club in the Danish 2nd Division, for less than nine months. For a soccer player with lofty ambitions to go pro, some might have been puzzled at his decision to leave Europe and come to America, but Pedersen saw it as a second chance to see if playing soccer was truly the career path he wanted to take. It also was an opportunity to have a new experience in addition to getting a college education.
Fast forward to Nov. 13, 2016, Wehrum Stadium in Herkimer, New York. It’s Richland vs. Camden County and the most important game for Richland in more than eight years. It is the 77th minute of the game. Irvin Dominguez, the diminutive Richland midfielder, is fouled outside the penalty box. Up steps Lucio Martinez to the spot of the foul. He sets down the ball and, before Camden County can find their bearings, Pedersen swiftly curls the ball into the back of the net.
The Camden County goalkeeper is visibly upset as he scolds one of his teammates. The Richland players could not care less.
“And that’s the fourth!” exclaims the announcer as the Richland players mob Pedersen. The goal was the fourth and final point of the evening wrapping up a dominant performance by Pedersen that included a shift with a goal and two assists.
For Pedersen, it meant his tally for the season was three goals and 19 assists in 17 games. He was at the forefront of Richland’s title win for the 2016 season, the result of phenomenal performances throughout the season, including the one in the finals that earned him the most valuable player (MVP) honors.
Pedersen is the second player in Richland’s history to be named MVP since Hall of Famer Jesus Rodriguez won the coveted prize in 2002.
“I didn’t really focus on being the MVP because I know that it [soccer] is a team sport and we are all doing it together,” said Pedersen. “We won the nationals as a team, but obviously I was happy and excited that I won the MVP of the tournament.”
It seems that his decision to leave Varde IF was not such a risky choice after all as he is reaping the fruits of his labor. Richland men’s soccer coach, Sean Worley was full of praise for the young midfielder.
“Mikkel is a very good soccer player; strong on the ball, a precise passer and he has an extremely dangerous left foot,” said Worley. “He is also a leader. Not much of a vocal leader, but more of a leader by example.”
In addition to his attributes on the field, Worley said, “He is just as good off the field regarding his academic pursuits, his commitment and being a good overall citizen as it pertains to life. He’s always on time, a good person, a good friend, players like him. He is just a solid person.”
The National Junior College Athletic Association championship win in 2016 ended a nine-year barren spell for Richland. For Pedersen, the win was much more special because in his freshman year Richland narrowly missed out on the final; they lost 3-2 in semifinal to Nassau Community College.
Pedersen said, “It was very tough for us as a team, the coaching staff and the players, so it was a great feeling to win the title.”
The next chapter of Pedersen’s life in America is going to be at the University of Kentucky. The school offered him a scholarship and he is going to be playing Division 1 soccer for the 2017 and 2018 season.
“It is a good transition. It is definitely a step up and it is going to be a huge challenge. I’m confident he’ll succeed with his dedication, hard work and overall ability as a soccer player, because that’s the highest level of college soccer we have in the United States,” said Worley.
“From there he will have an opportunity to play pro but his first step is to make sure that he does well for Kentucky and I’m confident that he will.”
It is only natural, at this rate of progression, that Pedersen will become a household name in Major League Soccer (MLS) and beyond. He certainly hopes so, with his eyes set on FC Dallas in the not-so-distant future.