Having admirably excelled as a forward at the high school level before becoming a top-flight midfielder/forward in college, Daniel Paladini ultimately hoped his impressive body of work would lead to a professional soccer career.
While playing for the St. Francis High boys' team and Cal State Northridge men's program, Paladini continued to impress with his play-making skills. He found ways to score big goals and thread crisp passes upfield for equally big assists.
Yet, having been bestowed with plenty of accolades for his accomplishments on the field with St. Francis and CSUN, the humble Paladini knew he needed to work harder at his craft in his quest to become a pro.
"It's what I wanted and it's every kid's dream," Paladini said. "If it happens, it happens.
"You have to keep improving your all-around skills and hope that it can get you to where you want to be. I'm thankful to be where I am."
For Paladini, the 2002 All-Area Boys' Soccer Player of the Year, that place is with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer.
Things have come along well for Paladini, who is receiving his share of playing time as an attacking midfielder for a Chicago squad that's earned its share of ties this season while competing in the league's Eastern Division.
He hasn't forgotten the arduous path he had to take to land in Chicago following stints on the Galaxy and Chivas USA developmental teams. His saving grace came when he moved to the North American Soccer League with the Carolina RailHawks from 2009-10.
It was a decision the former All-Mission League Most Valuable Player and Big-West Conference standout wouldn't regret.
"I got to play with the Galaxy and got a little more time playing with Chivas," said Paladini, who appeared in eight matches with Chivas in 2008 after being taken in the supplemental draft by the Galaxy in 2006. "I made a decision to go to Carolina and work on my all-around game and that helped me get to Chicago.
"It's one of the best things I could have done going to Carolina. I said to myself that I had to do well down there. The team and I did well and the hard work paid off."
Paladini arrived in Carolina in late-2008 and became a go-to player for the RailHawks. He was named the club's most valuable player in 2009 and offensive player of the year in 2010. In 51 matches with Carolina, Paladini finished with 12 goals, prepping him for a move up to the MLS.
Paladini played a large role in helping the Railhawks win the league league's conference crown in 2010, followed by a run to the championship match.
Those numbers and his consistent play-making ability made Paladini a candidate for a job in the MLS after paying his dues with Carolina. Chicago showed interest and brought him in for a tryout in November.
"I did well with the Railhawks and I had a good trial with the Fire," Paladini, 26, said. "I thought things would work out well with them and they have.
"I like playing here and I'm learning how to get better while learning from players like [Chicago midfielder] Logan Pause. He's been mentoring me a lot."
Paladini, who helped St. Francis win the CIF Southern Section Division IV championship in 2001 under the guidance of Coach Glen Appels, hasn't recorded a point in 13 matches with Chicago (2-6-12 for 18 points and seventh place in the nine-team conference). He's recorded nine shots on goal in 954 minutes.
Chicago interim Coach Frank Klopas, who also serves as the team's technical director, said Paladini brought some intangibles with him to Chicago.
"He's an all-around good player who knows how to make the smart pass," said Klopas, who took over the head coaching responsibilities May 30. "He can shoot from distance, too, and he gives us depth.
"He's been valuable to our team in a lot of ways. It's a matter of how we play and the role he can play."
Pause, a member of the Fire since 2003, has helped play a role in solidifying Paladini's career by working with him on the finer points of handling the midfield position. While always learning, Pause said there's plenty of opportunities left for Paladini to further elevate his game.
"He's still young, but he's got a lot of years playing," said Pause, who has more than 200 matches of experience in Major League Soccer. "His resilience and persistence keeps him going.
"He's become a well-rounded player who can move forward or defend. We've developed a friendship and I've been fortunate where I've been in this league and had things passed on to me by great players. I try to do the same things with players like him."
Paladini would like to remain in Chicago for a while.
Gaining more experience and learning from some of the best players in the league might help him stay there.
"I feel like I've gotten a lot of things done so far," Paladini said. "I remember my first practice with the Galaxy and they had great players like Landon Donovan and Cobi Jones out there.
"I want to make a name for myself in this league."