By Dillon Friday, Communications Manager, Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer
Everything Colton Storm has accomplished over the last six years speaks to his maturity as well as his talent. Storm, a Mechanicsburg native, spent time in residency with the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team in Bradenton, Florida. He turned that experience into an athletic scholarship at the University of North Carolina. With professional soccer aspirations, Storm mulled declaring for the MLS SuperDraft a few times as an underclassmen before ultimately deciding he’d rather finish his career—and degree—with the Tar Heels; “I know I wanted to get my diploma,” he said. Storm graduated from Chapel Hill a semester early in December 2016, a testament to his commitment to education.
And yet there are things to remind us of his youth. For instance, as Storm prepared for the 2017 MLS SuperDraft this January, where he would be selected 14th overall by Sporting Kansas City, he needed help completing his draft-day attire.
“My dad tied my tie,” Storm, 22, admitted. “I’m still learning things.”
His longtime coach at HMMS, Gino DiFlorio, relayed that story to Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer—“Gino got a kick out of that,” said Storm, with only a hint of embarrassment. But there’s nothing but love between the coach and his protégé.
“I’m just so happy for him,” said DiFlorio. “He’s earned it.”
Storm and DiFlorio’s relationship highlights one of the main reasons Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer honored HMMS Youth Soccer Association as the 2016 D’Anjolell Award winner. The Capital Area club has established coaching philosophies that develop players at their own pace, while encouraging the best among them to pursue opportunities at higher levels, including the Olympic Development Program.
DiFlorio, Director of Coaching at HMMS, has been with the club for 15 years. He retired from his own playing career in 2002, which started in the old Major Indoor Soccer League of the early 1980’s. DiFlorio watched Storm progress through HMMS’s recreation program and join an under-10 team that DiFlorio eventually took over. He saw something special in Storm almost immediately.
“It probably took a few practices,” DiFlorio recalled. “I thought, ‘There’s something about this kid.’
“You can tell. He had the work rate, all the tools. You try not to make a judgement at those ages, but you can see it.”
Storm’s performance at the club level impressed DiFlorio. As a member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer ODP coaching staff, he encouraged his young player to try out. It proved to be a worthwhile experience for Storm.
“Gino pushed me into ODP,” said Storm. “I had great coaches in Mike Gorni and Greg Ramos, and the top (players) were all there. Playing together made us so much better.”
It also earned Storm regional and national recognition. He attended Region I Camp in 2010, got called to the Region I team and was pegged for a spot in the U.S. U17 Men’s National Team residency program.
“I tried to make the most of it,” Storm said.
All the while, he remained loyal to HMMS, even as other names came calling.
“He was comfortable with where he was at,” explained DiFlorio. “He just felt this is where he wanted to stay.”
Storm was more direct in his explanation.
“I had opportunities to go other places,” he said. “I wanted to stick it out with Gino. Gino was so good to me. I knew I was getting better. I’ve always believed be loyal to the guy who’s loyal to you. He always told me straight up what I needed to do to improve.”
And he listened as well. In Storm, DiFlorio found a strong student of the game.
“He was always willing to learn,” DiFlorio said. “He brought that on the field.”
That attitude aided Storm as he left for UNC. An attacking midfielder by trade, the then freshman encountered a crowded Tar Heel depth chart. With hopes of getting his prized recruit on the field, head coach Carlos Somoano converted Storm into a defender and, in some ways, threw him to the wolves.
“I started at outside back my second or third game my freshman year—at Wake Forest,” Storm said, emphasizing the national power status the Demon Deacons’ own. He passed the challenge, though, and then some. “They put me on the right. They put me on the left. I felt like I excelled. I love (outside back). I’m still able to get forward.”
By his junior season, Storm was one of the best attacking backs in the ACC, widely regarded as the nation’s best soccer conference. He scored two goals and added three assists for Carolina, while firing 22 shots. The Tar Heels reached the NCAA Tournament each of his four years, and fell in the College Cup Semifinals in his senior season of 2016. For his part in that success, Storm was named to the All-ACC Second Team, the NCAA College Cup Best XI and NSCAA Third Team All-South Region.
He had little time to celebrate the honors, though. Because of UNC’s run to the final four, Storm went from Houston and the College Cup back to Chapel Hill for graduation and then home for the holidays in a matter of weeks. Then he was on a flight to the West Coast for the MLS Combine and SuperDraft. Storm remained confident through it all.
“My expectations were to go in the first round,” he said. “I felt like I had a good combine. Sporting (Kansas City) just really stuck out. I felt so good with the coaching staff.”
Storm was overjoyed when they called his name 14th overall.
“I’m so grateful,” he said. “As soon as I stepped off the stage, I had thousands of fans messaging me. (Captain) Matt Besler called me. (Manager) Peter Vermes was by my side. The brand of soccer that they play is attractive, too.”
His former coach wasn’t far from his mind either.
“Gino is like a second father to me,” said Storm. “He still calls me almost every other day. I stop in and see him when I’m home. It’s an endless caring.”
“It’s special to know one of your players developed into a great player and into a great human being,” said DiFlorio. “When he was home, he showed up to a training session I was running with my U8 boys to say hello. With all that he has on his plate, that’s incredible.”
As fate would have it, Sporting Kansas City opens its season on March 4 at DC United, a short drive south from Mechanicsburg. DiFlorio plans to be attendance alongside Storm’s family. Should he take the pitch, Storm can’t fathom the emotion that might overcome him.
“It would bring a little sickness to my stomach,” he said. “Gino being there, having my mom and dad and brother there with the Storm name on the back of the jersey—that would be unbelievable. That’s the goal.”
HMMS Youth Soccer Association will be honored with the D'Anjolell Award at the Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Annual Awards Banquet February 25. Tickets and more information about the banquet is available here.