Benny Delgado grew up in Chicago, the son of undocumented immigrants, and also spent a few years of his childhood in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He attended Pritzker College Prep in Chicago, which had a majority Latino population.
“I think the majority of us were all first-generation students,” said in an interview. “There’s a big emphasis on going to college, reaching your dreams, reaching your goals.”
He spent some time playing soccer in the youth program of Major League Soccer team Chicago Fire, and at 16 had the audacity to cold-email a professional club about a tryout. The man he emailed, Indy Eleven general manager Peter Wilt, arranged a tryout. A couple years later, when Delgado was a freshman at Beloit College, he emailed Wilt again, this time about the new club Wilt was heading up in Madison.
“When I first reached out to Peter about Madison pro soccer, he thought that I was looking into playing,” Delgado recalled. “He was telling me that, ‘Oh, we’re not going to be playing for probably another year.’ I was like, ‘Oh, no, I’m not trying to play anymore. Those days are a little bit behind.’”
That call led to a part-time job as player liaison and locker room attendant.
“It’s pretty much helping with the players with anything that’s outside of the field,” he said. “For example, (in 2019) with Josiel Núñez, I was helping him out with some immigration paperwork, translating for players, picking them up at airports, dropping them off at airports. Whether it’s at 3:00 am or 7:00 at night, I was picking them up or dropping them off.”
He also got to interact closely with the coaching staff and sit in on player evaluations when the team was first forming.
“I did express early on to (former head coach) Daryl Shore and Peter what I wanted to do more on the soccer and technical side. Thankfully enough, Peter and Daryl were really open and gave me an opportunity to be able to get my foot into the professional soccer world, being able to observe Daryl really up close and personal, seeing what it’s like to be a professional soccer coach, something that I’ve been starting to work towards and hopefully reach one day,” Delgado said. “I was with Daryl and a couple of other professional coaches and players … where we were evaluating and watching players in their tryouts, which was really cool. For me, at that time, it was surreal because we all went out to dinner, and we all just talked about the players. We were, for a good hour or two, just talking soccer and discussing and evaluating the players, which at that time, to me, was really surreal, being 19 years old and being in that environment. And I took it all in, and it definitely helped me grow my passion for it.”
Delgado said he’s grateful for the supportive environment at Forward Madison. The club and its league are known as a proving ground for developing young players, but apparently it’s the same kind of thing for aspiring coaches, too.
“I’m really grateful for Connor (Caloia) as well, the (co-)owner of the club, because he’s been extremely supportive of what I want to do and my ambition, and is willing to do anything to help me out, to continue pursuing those goals and dreams and continuing moving on,” Delgado said.
Delgado also joined the coaching staff at Evansville High School, coaching the JV girls’ team and serving as assistant coach for the varsity squad.
“He’s really passionate. He definitely knows a ton about soccer,” said Evansville girls head coach Brandon Jerst. “He definitely brought a lot from his younger career as a player. He got the girls to buy into the stuff we were trying to teach them, tactically.”
Delgado points to one player in particular — volleyball player Iris Pyper (yes, Delgado was also coaching volleyball at the time) who was so inspired by his coaching that she wanted to try soccer — a sport she’d never played — as a sophomore. By the end of the season, she was on the varsity team.
“He’s a team builder, meaning he builds confidence in the people that he’s coaching and makes it a comfortable place to make mistakes,” Pyper said in a message to Madison365. Coach Benny was very driven and always had a positive attitude, making it hard for us to not give the same energy back. Coaching is something I could see him doing forever, because he enjoys doing it and he’s skilled at it. When I played soccer for the first time ever my sophomore year, he let me make mistakes, told me what I needed to practice, gave me film to watch, stayed after practice with some of the other girls to work on specific drills or shots, and I ended up playing on varsity. Without him coaching me and pushing me I wouldn’t have been the same athlete I was that season!”
At the same time, Delgado was also driving around the area scouting opponents and dipping his toes more into the pro game by working with players’ agents, connecting them with clubs for tryouts and meetings.
Going to college in Beloit, working for Forward Madison, coaching in Evansville and scouting all over the area meant a lot of time in the car, which was just fine to Delgado.
“In Chicago, a one-hour drive is five miles,” he said.
Delgado stepped down from coaching at Evansville to focus on working at the pro level right before pro sports came to a halt due to the pandemic. Still, he was able to work for Forward Madison during the abbreviated 2020 season and intends to stay with the club for 2021, hoping to take on a more substantial role.
Earlier this year, he did that cold-email thing again, this time landing a spot in a professional coaching training program with Atlético San Luís, a club in Liga MX, Mexico’s top pro league.
He landed that opportunity in “pretty much the same way that I’ve started with everything. Just having this mentality of, what do I have to lose?”
It helped that the guy he reached out to was another Benny — Benny Ferreyra, an assistant coach and technical director with Atlético San Luís who also coaches the club’s second-division team. Ferreyra is also from Cuernavaca, so the two had plenty to talk about.
“He was telling me, ‘You’re starting really young, which is a really good thing. I definitely wish I could have started at the age that you have,’” Delgado said. “He really likes that I’m really young, hungry, ambitious, and really open-minded to just continue learning and learning from people that know a lot more than I do or have the experiences that I’m looking towards getting sometime later in my career. Immediately, he just told me, ‘Here’s the dates where I’m doing courses. Sign yourself up.’”
The courses are all virtual for now, meaning Delgado can jump in from here. Soon, though, he might start making that very long commute.
“So within the next few years, (Ferreyra) told me, ‘When the pandemic is over, my house is your house. These facilities are your facilities. Whenever you can make the trip down here and when the pandemic is over, we’ll continue doing the Fcoursework and you’ll be right here with me and you’ll be working with me and seeing what it’s like to be in this high level almost world-class environment,’” Delgado said.
Delgado said he hopes to get some experience in the next couple of years coaching the youth or developmental teams with Atlético San Luís while getting his coaching certifications in Mexico, and eventually the same credentials in the US and then start to work his way into the coaching ranks here.
“I think it’s baby steps for me,” he said. “So right now, I think one of my main goals is to hopefully find an opportunity where I can be the head coach of a high school program first, just because I think that’s a more than sufficient level for me to be able to prove what I can do, especially on the player developmental side. But even more once I have my own team and I can more control the style of play, the success.”
He said in 10 years or so, he’d like to be coaching at the USL League One or USL Championship level, citing the example of Nate Miller, who was just 32 when he coached the Lansing Ignite in USL League One before moving up to be assistant coach to US soccer legend Landon Donavan at USL Championship side San Diego Loyal.
Lofty goals for a guy who’s just finishing his undergrad degree, but those around him think he’s got what it takes.
“Benny is a doer and he has a good heart,” Wilt said in a message to Madison365. “His ambition is unusual and he has an ability to juggle multiple projects without neglecting any of them. All of that combined with his youth provides him with a bright future.”
Jerst, who was also the referee liaison with Forward Madison in 2019, got to see Delgado behind the scenes.
“I got to see him interacting with the head coach and the away coaches. He definitely mimicked a lot of what Daryl was doing,” Jerst said. “As long as he keeps his head on straight and keeps working towards that goal, I think he’ll definitely be able to (coach at the professional level) at some point in his career.”
“Benny has been a loyal and dedicated member of the staff since the start of Forward Madison. He has a great passion for the Club,” Caloia said in an email to Madison365. “I am glad we could help and provide some direction and inspiration. I think he will do well in whatever soccer related venture he pursues because of his enthusiasm and hard work. As it relates to FMFC, we are thrilled to see Benny get this opportunity. While we want to develop and retain great talent on and off the field, we are excited to see our employees move up to other leagues and new challenges. As a Club, we have a responsibility to develop talent in all facets of our operation.”
Delgado said he hopes to see more young people like him break into the front offices and coaches’ boxes of American soccer.
“I really hope that this starts becoming a trend where we start seeing more, not just kids from undocumented families or immigrants, but also just low-income people continuously breaking into the scene,” he said. “it’s definitely something that is lacking a lot of diversity in professional soccer in the United States. I’m hoping it gets better.”
USL League One announced yesterday that the 28-game season would start in early May.