Victor Palsson arrives with DC United for his second stint in MLS
Prone to addiction due to his family history – both parents had alcohol and drug problems, he said, and his mother died of an overdose two years ago at 47 – Palsson nearly threw away a career that promised to take off when he joined Liverpool in 2009.
A partial season with the Red Bulls fell amid a troubled streak that featured five clubs over four years.
“I had a lot of demons inside of me that I just didn’t know how to deal with,” he said. “Then I would use evasions.”
The wake-up call came in 2014, when he said no club wanted him due to his personal issues. He cleaned himself up and said he had been sober for eight years.
“I’m a very different person,” he said. “I had to go through tough times to be who I am today. I don’t regret anything because I’m here now. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, and I’m proud of where I’ve come as a person and as a player.
Palsson said he divides his career into two parts: 2007 to 2014 and everything since.
In the first half there was a lot of “drinking and partying and not focusing on what was important”, he said. “I was screwing things up on my own, but I didn’t see that.”
In New York, he didn’t survive the whole season.
“I wasn’t playing. I wasn’t doing well in life,” Palsson said. “I barely remember that time.”
His problems continued with his next club, NEC Nijmegen in the Netherlands, who after two years told him not to show up for pre-season in 2014.
“I had burned all the bridges around me – family, girlfriend, friends,” he said. “Everything was at rock bottom. So I had to make the decision to change my life.”
He said he sought advice and worked with a psychologist and other mental health specialists. (He said he stayed in regular contact with them.) He relied on childhood friends.
Swedish club Helsingborgs gave him a second chance, offering him a three-month contract to prove himself as a person and a player. This was followed by moves to Denmark, Switzerland and 2½ years with Darmstadt in the German second division.
There, he learns of the death of his mother.
“When she was sober, she was my mother,” he said. “When she used, she was someone else.”
The emotional toll hit him hard but, thanks in part to his support system, he said he never came close to relapsing.
“I grew up in difficult circumstances [in Reykjavik], without that person to help you as a youngster,” said Palsson, who added that his father was not present in his life. “It was just me.”
After Darmstadt, Palsson played a central role in helping famous German club Schalke regain promotion to the Bundesliga after a year adrift.
Staying with Schalke in one of Europe’s top five leagues seemed like a perfect scenario, but uncertainty over his role this season and a desire to live in North America lured him to MLS. His girlfriend and their 5-year-old son live in his native British Columbia; the family plans to permanently reunite in the DC area this winter.
United’s interest in Palsson began last year but the timing for a move was not good for either side. This summer, in search of a defensive midfielder with experience and an edge in his game, the club paid an undisclosed transfer fee to Schalke and made Palsson one of their three Nominated Players. .
New United manager Wayne Rooney said he knew Palsson over the years. “If you hear him speak, he sounds like he’s from Liverpool” with a Scouse accent, Liverpool-born Rooney said with a smile.
While working on his European coaching license last year, Rooney received an analysis assignment from Schalke. Palsson, one of the team’s captains, started 28 of 34 league matches as the club finished first.
“He likes to tackle, which is what we need in midfield,” Rooney said. “You can already see his character – wanting to play, wanting to learn, how we can improve. It’s really good for the coach to have a player so invested and interested in how we can all develop.
Palsson also remains in the Iceland national team squad, having made 29 appearances and scored once.
As his club career takes a new turn, Palsson said he has to keep working on his life’s path.
“It’s a live process,” he said. “But I know what is good for me. I know what is bad for me. I know where I feel comfortable and where I don’t feel comfortable. I know what is the right thing for me to do in my work but also in life — especially in life.
Remarks: Ecuadorian striker Michael Estrada (four goals, four assists) left the team by mutual agreement and is expected to join a Mexican club soon. He was on loan for a season from Toluca (Mexico). While Rooney was stirring things up, Estrada hadn’t worn a uniform in weeks. …
Rookie midfielder Jackson Hopkins was cleared to play after leaving Saturday’s game with a knee injury. …
Goalkeeper David Ochoa, acquired in a July trade with Real Salt Lake, will be in uniform for the first time on Saturday, Rooney said. He or Rafael Romo will start.