TAMPA, Fla. — Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, may have been an ordinary day for most people, but for Sal Mazzaferro, it meant the world to him.
The University of South Florida defender was selected by Austin F.C in the third round as the 72nd overall pick of the 2023 MLS SuperDraft.
For a moment so huge in his young soccer career, Mazzaferro said he got to share the special announcement with the people who have supported his dream since day one.
"It was a surreal feeling and I was just sitting there with my family and we're waiting, waiting, waiting," he said. "And then when we finally saw on the screen, my name popped up there after Austin [made their selection].
"It was so nice, it was like all that hard work, all that blood, sweat and tears had finally paid off."
That hard work from the 6-foot-1 defender began prior to his days with the Bulls.
Mazzaferro played with the U-19 Toronto F.C. team as part of the MLS Academy, giving him a minor taste of what it's like to compete at the highest level of soccer in the U.S. During that time, he also played high school ball at Robert F. Hall Catholic Secondary School in Toronto, Canada, where he served as the team captain and won the Canadian National Championship in 2015.
Wanting to develop his game even more, Mazzaferro joined USF in 2019 to play for an NCAA division one side.
However, traveling from one country to another was not an easy thing for him, especially for an 18-year-old at the time.
When he arrived in Tampa, Mazzaferro had to adapt to a new culture, school and environment far away from his family.
"I knew I was going to have to make a lot of sacrifices going into it [playing soccer at USF]," he said. "When I was at Toronto, I knew I wanted that college route. I want that education in my back pocket for when I go professional.
"I'd say in a sense, I was prepared for it, but at the same time, it's very tough for the first time leaving home and living away way down south there in Tampa. I didn't have any of my family there. I didn't know anyone at the school, on the team, the coaching, but it was definitely worth it at the end."
A way that helped Mazzaferro settle into his new surroundings was by performing very well for the Bulls, which is something that he executed in four years with his team.
The senior defender was recently named to the United Soccer Coaches All-East Region Third Team, according to USF Athletics. He was also selected in the Second Team American Athletic Conference All-Conference Team after he showed strong displays in his team's defensive unit by helping the Bulls record four clean sheets during the year.
Mazzaferro recorded one goal and two assists during his time at USF.
Now, he's focused to earn a spot on the active roster for Austin F.C., who made the Western Conference Finals in last year's MLS Cup and is entering its third season in the league.
"Getting chosen by a prestigious MLS club like them and a team that's making a name for themselves is just amazing itself," Mazzaferro said. "They go top players around the league and a few MLS All-Stars.
"It's going to be a great experience, but I know I'm going in there as a young college kid who just graduated, so I got to be humble. I got to be taking notes the entire time and I can't get too far ahead of myself."
The Toronto native played in a total of 18 out of 19 full 90-minute matches in the past season with the Bulls. The main reason for that, according to Mazzaferro, was because of his ability to remain a constant threat on the left side of the field as a fullback or as a strong presence in the back line, which is something that may have also caught the eye for Austin F.C.
"I always work on my stamina and my engine so that I could just get up and down the field without hesitation," he said. "When I started getting into that left fullback position, that was my time to get up and down the flank and tire the opponents as much as possible.
"In the center back position, I was really good at getting those long balls deep, hitting that diagonal with my left foot. That's something I kept working on to really perfect it and make sure I was that much further ahead of everyone else around me."
Mazzaferro's moments playing collegiate soccer at USF
The 21-year-old defender will go to Orlando on Jan. 3 for his rookie symposium, which is where all student-athletes selected from the draft attend to take classes and view certain presentations. Two days after that, he will fly to Austin F.C.'s sporting complex to complete his necessary medical and physical screenings with the club. On Jan 6, he begins the preseason campaign with the team.
Before he can get the opportunity to play alongside star players Sebastian Driussi, Max Urruti and Diego Fagundez come February, Mazzaferro will have to earn a spot on the roster prior to the upcoming MLS season.
"Making a name for myself in preseason and really standing out is huge for me," he said. "Any striker I'm going up against [in preseason], it's the same thought process. I got to get to that ball first, get my body on them if I have to and make sure I play the player right. I feel ready for that [challenge] and the sky's the limit."
On Jan. 16, Mazzaferro and Austin F.C. will travel to Orlando where they will play a few games against different MLS and United Soccer League clubs.
Austin F.C. will begin its 2023 season at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25 against new expansion side St. Louis CITY SC. All MLS teams are expected to announce their finals roster a few weeks prior to the start of the season.