(New York Jewish Week) — New York Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Edelman is something of a hero to American soccer fans — and Jewish soccer fans, in particular.
The 20-year-old rising star, who is Jewish, won his Major League Soccer team’s Newcomer of the Year award last year, and, as captain of the under-20 U.S. Men’s National Team, he helped lead the team to the quarterfinals at the U-20 World Cup in Argentina in May.
But what might cement this heroic image is a giveaway from last Saturday’s home game: a Daniel Edelman bobblehead, in honor of Marvel Night at Red Bull Arena. Inspired by “Guardians of the Galaxy” superhero Star-Lord, it’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for someone so early in his career.
“It’s really exciting,” Edelman told the New York Jewish Week via telephone as he was en route to practice on Friday morning. “It’s my second season with the team, and to have a bobblehead made of me is pretty cool. This is a team I grew up looking up to, admiring all the players.”
In Saturday’s game, the New York Red Bulls beat the New England Revolution 2-1, and Edelman — who was one of the New York Jewish Week’s “36 to Watch” honorees for 2023 — boasted the most completed passes of the match. The team is now 10th place in the MLS’ Eastern Conference.
Edelman insists that he was selected for a Marvel Night-themed bobblehead because his affinity for comics is well-known among his team — not because he possesses any superhero-like powers. “I’m a big Marvel guy,” Edelman said. “I love all the ‘Avengers’ movies I’ve seen. Captain America is one of my favorite heroes.”
And yet: “I would like to think I could also be a hero of the team, one of the heroes,” he said when pressed. “Being one of the young players of the team, hopefully can inspire young academy kids, younger generations of players.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Edelman was one of those kids. Growing up in Warren Township, New Jersey — where he still lives with his family today — he was bitten by the soccer bug at a very young age. “Soccer’s been everything for me,” he said. “Walking around the house, there’s always been ball at my feet — literally, dribbling through the kitchen while my mom is making food, bothering my dad if he’s doing work around the house. It’s always been a passion of mine; I love the game so much.”
When he was about 6 or 7 years old, Edelman began playing for a travel team, Watchung Hills, where his father, Ari Edelman, a sports public relations executive who played soccer for Loyola Maryland, was head coach. (His mother, Patty Stoffey Edelman, is an athlete too: She was Maryland’s all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I women’s basketball.)
But soccer wasn’t the only religion in the household: Edelman grew up celebrating Jewish holidays with his dad’s side of the family. His favorite holiday is Hanukkah.
“That’s probably when I get to see family the most,” he said. “We get to all be together and eat good food, enjoy a good time and give gifts to each other.”
Edelman said his grandmother typically makes latkes, and it’s a family tradition to get Sloppy Joe sandwiches from a deli.
When asked if there was a particular Jewish food he enjoys, Edelman’s answer was a surprising one: “I love gefilte fish,” he said.
He said he draws inspiration, on and off the field, from his late great-grandfather, Benjamin Guyer, a Holocaust survivor. As the family lore goes, he made a daring escape from a cattle car while en route to a Nazi camp. “It’s inspiring that he didn’t give up, he kept fighting and he was able to make it out,” Edelman said.
When he graduated high school, Edelman was set to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But when the opportunity to play professionally for the Red Bulls came up, Edelman seized it. “I trusted myself and my abilities — this is the path I want to go [on]. I’ve always wanted to become a pro,” Edelman said, adding: “It was still something that had to be discussed with my parents.”
Said parents supported Edelman’s decision, but there was some compromise: They insisted that he at least enroll in some classes at University of South Carolina, which has a partnership with the MLS. “My dad definitely wanted me to still pursue an education, find a way to still be working toward a degree while I’m playing,” he said.
“Of course, I just want to focus on my career right now,” added Edelman, who has taken two English courses so far. “But I really see how it’ll be super important to have something when I’m done playing.”
He’s nowhere close to being “done” yet. After an impressive showing at the U-20 World Cup — and with the 2024 Olympics on the horizon — rumors are circulating that several soccer clubs abroad, including Maccabi Tel Aviv, are interested in the young midfielder.
“It’s cool to hear about that and soak it in,” said Edelman, who is a fan of Israeli soccer and is impressed by the “top quality” players there. “But my full focus is still with the New York Red Bulls and finishing out the year here.”
A Liverpool FC fan, Edelman hopes to one day play for a European team. “I think everyone my age, and everyone at the U-20 World Cup, wants to play in Europe someday,” he said. “That’s something that I’m going to look forward to in the future.”
For now, Edelman’s reveling in the opportunity to help elevate American soccer, and he’s proud of being one of the very few — and possibly only — Jewish player in the MLS. “It’s pretty cool to think about,” he said. “There’s been some fans who have come up to me and say ‘Oh, it’s great to have someone Jewish on the field, see them playing.’ It’s not that common, to be honest.”