This story is one of a series of profiles of 2012 graduates. See all senior profiles for this year here.
Most seniors at Columbia spent the last few weeks of school thinking about the end of classes, finals, and senior week among other things the end of the semester brings. But Mike Mazzullo’s last few weeks at Columbia College have not revolved around the sense of an ending. The senior, who was a four-year starter for and the first-ever three-time captain of the Light Blue men’s soccer team, has been training with the New York Red Bulls, one of the largest franchises in Major League Soccer and one that boasts several world-class players.
“It’s a huge adjustment coming from the college game to playing with guys like Henry and Marquez,” Mike Mazzullo said, referring to international soccer stars Thierry Henry and Ráfael Marquez.
Mazzullo made history in January, becoming the first Columbia soccer player ever to be drafted by an MLS team when the Canadian side Toronto FC selected him in the supplemental draft. But things did not work out across the border, and Mazzullo returned to Columbia and began training with the Red Bulls.
“I’m just training with them,” Mazzullo said. “I don’t know what my official status is. I trained with the first team last week which was obviously a lot of fun and that’s how I’m treating the opportunity: That it’s fun and I’m just trying to make the most of it and it’s soccer, so you can’t go wrong.”
The New Yorker was a significant part of a class that helped turn around the men’s soccer program. The season before Mazzullo and his peers from the class of 2012 set foot in Morningside Heights, the Lions went 0-7 in the Ivy League. Four years later, a team captained by Mazzullo almost delivered the program’s first Ivy title since 1993. The Light Blue finished with a 4-1-2 conference record and came closer to the Ivy League title than any other occasion in the past 18 years, as Brown and Dartmouth shared the crown with a 4-2-1 record. The Lions tied 1-1 against Cornell in Ithaca in the season finale—a win would have handed the title to Columbia.
“Soccer-wise, with the group of guys that we had coming in—a strong freshman class—I expected that we were going to win an Ivy League championship and be pretty dominant, so that’s an obvious letdown never to have achieved those goals,” Mazzullo said. “I think if you’re an athlete, you should always feel like you didn’t do enough rather than you achieved too much. You should always have that hunger to achieve more and that feeling of ambition.”
But even with that outlook, Mazzullo recognizes that the team has made strides.
“At the end of last season, I didn’t think we had as good a season as I’d have hoped, but looking back at the past four years, the team is a lot better now than it was when I came in and that’s an achievement in itself,” he said.
The midfielder was an all-Ivy honoree twice during his Columbia career, and finishes with four goals—including two game-winners—and five assists. Mazzullo played in 66 matches out of a possible 68 during his career as a Lion as he attempted to perfect the art of balancing soccer with academics.
“Academically, I knew what I was getting into,” he said. “I became a history major and obviously it’s tough academically, but at Columbia, like a lot of other schools, it’s as hard as you want to make it. So I was able to negotiate my soccer goals and sacrifices with having a pretty successful academic career throughout.”
Even though Mazzullo has already represented the Red Bulls in a fixture against the Lions, he’s still getting used to becoming an alum.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” he said. “I played in the New York Red Bulls reserve game against Columbia, which is kind of strange, because these were my teammates just a couple months ago. It was obviously a little strange but it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I think when the fall comes around and I see the schedule, see the teams they’ll be going up against in the Ivy League and the rest, that’s when it’ll sink in.”