Some kids dream of becoming professional soccer players; others dream of attending an Ivy League institution—few achieve either. Dylan Castanheira, CC ’19, achieved both. This year, Dylan Castenheira signed with Inter Miami CF, making him one of just six former Ivy League students—and the only former student from Columbia—who will play Major League Soccer this season.
Undoubtedly, the goalie’s talent played a role in propelling him to the professional stage. This talent was apparent from an early age. Before setting foot on Columbia’s campus, Castanheira attended elite soccer camps, trained with academies in England, and participated in the exclusive Player Development Program, all of which were geared toward developing his professional career in soccer. These were exclusive programs, only available to the top players in the nation.
But talent coupled with early athletic development is insufficient for preparing for a professional career in soccer: Castanheira needed to continue to hone his skills in college. For most pro-soccer prospects, this means going to a top-ranked school, making Castanheira’s choice to enroll at Columbia an oddity. Today, Columbia is not a “soccer school,” and it certainly was not one at the time of his application. In 2013, the year before Castanheira applied to Columbia, the Lions clinched a single Ivy win during their spring season—nor was this season atypical, as the Light Blue’s league standings were at best mediocre for the two decades following its 1991 Ancient Eight crown.
However, Castanheira staunchly defended his school choice, stating that since he had the talent, his school selection was relatively insignificant.
“Ultimately, if you are good enough, then you will make it,” Castanheira said. “It doesn’t matter what school you end up going to.”
While this may be true, Castanheira admits Columbia helped rather than hindered him in reaching his professional goals. In part, playing in the Ivy League helped him showcase his talent, as Castanheira consistently stood out as a star on the pitch. The Ancient Eight, as a whole, has a lower level of competition than many other Division I conferences, meaning that Castanheira could better be seen—and scouted—at Columbia than at other schools.
However, the team Castanheira joined was atypical in its success. The 2014 team had talent, partially as a result of head coach Kevin Anderson’s concerted effort to attract better players. This excellence—crowned by the addition of Castanheira—created an unprecedented Columbia team. During Castanheira’s four years at Columbia, the team would return some of its best results in program history, even sharing the Ivy title with Dartmouth during Castanheira’s sophomore year.
Even among the talent of this team, however, Castanheira’s skills stood out. As goaltender, Castanheira naturally garnered recognition, but the results he produced multiplied this attention. Even as a sophomore, Castanheira performed at the highest level, both in the Ivy League and in the entire Division I: His goals against average (.290) led the NCAA, while his save percentage (.903) broke the school record.
By his junior year, Castanheira was a cornerstone of the Lions’ soccer squad. That year, he played every minute of every game, and this constant presence translated to the Lions’ success. With 11 shutouts—the second most in school history—and his leading the Ivy League in every major goalkeeping statistic, Castanheira paved the way for the team’s second-place finish in the Ivy League and a bid at the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament. Ultimately, the Lions struck out early in the tournament, losing to No. 1 ranked Wake Forest in the second round. However, for Columbia, even making it this far was groundbreaking—it was the first time the team had done so since 1990.
By Castanheira’s senior year, the situation was ripe for him to make the transition into the pros. In some ways, this change had already been made. Throughout his years at Columbia, he played with the Long Island Rough Riders. The transition finally “finished” when he forewent his senior spring at Columbia to play for the United Soccer League team Atlanta United 2.
However, the most important ingredient to Castanheira’s success—”putting in the work”—never stopped for the star goalie. He still aimed to ascend to greater heights, aspiring to move from USL to MLS. In the two subsequent years, he would work toward this goal, playing for the young Fort Lauderdale CF team the year following his short stint with Atlanta.
Castanheira’s “work” finally materialized this year when he signed for the MSL team Inter Miami CF, but it is not in Castanheira’s nature to ever stop “putting it in.”
“I’ve never been someone who was afraid of working hard,” Castanheira explained. “A lot of my development came from the extra hours I put in, and it is something I plan on continuing in my professional career.”