On Friday, Jan. 6, men’s soccer junior midfielder Malik Pinto joined the long list of Princeton athletes who have gone pro, signing his first contract with FC Cincinnati of Major League Soccer (MLS). Pinto will be the first Tiger to go to the MLS since his former teammate, Kevin O’Toole ’22, was selected to join New York City Football Club through the super-draft in January 2021.
“The thing I am most excited about is that I got the ability to live my childhood dreams,” Pinto told The Daily Princetonian. “It will be nice to focus on specific aspects of soccer, such as my mentality and physicality.”
“We know that playing professionally has always been Malik’s dream, and we are very happy for him to have such a great opportunity,” said men’s soccer head coach Jim Barlow ‘91.
Pinto boasted a strong career at Princeton, winning Ivy League weekly awards twice and Second Team All-Ivy honors in his sophomore season. He also played a pivotal role in Princeton’s undefeated Ivy League title run in 2021, scoring two goals and picking up two assists. This past season, he racked up four assists and earned an All-Ivy Honorable Mention.
“During this fall and into the offseason, he was continuing to emerge as a powerful voice in the locker room and leader on and off the field,” Barlow added. “We will have a big void to fill in his absence.”
Pinto joined the FC Cincinnati Academy in 2020, representing the club’s under-19 squad. He has also returned to train with the club during each of the past two summers. His new contract with the senior team will run through 2024, with club options available for the two subsequent seasons.
“Malik is a promising young player that we feel can develop quickly in our environment,” said FC Cincinnati General Manager Chris Albright in a press release. “From his time within our Academy to his time at Princeton, he’s shown great work ethic, ability to cover ground, and game understanding.”
Now looking forward to his professional career, Pinto said his Princeton education has eased any nerves about making it big in the MLS.
“I am prepared on and off the pitch knowing I have a promising future regardless of the outcomes of my professional soccer career,” said Pinto. “[I’m getting] a Princeton education because I wanted to ensure that I was prepared to go into the world to succeed with or without the game of soccer.”
Pinto said he hopes to follow the path of his sister, Brianna, a midfielder for the North Carolina Courage in the National Women’s Soccer League. She completed her degree despite leaving college as a junior to pursue her professional soccer career. Pinto plans to complete his junior independent work and senior thesis during his off-seasons.
As Pinto leaves the Princeton soccer team and ends his time as a full-time student, he says that he will miss the community and its intellectual diversity the most.
“The thing I will miss most about Princeton is the people,” he said.
“Since my first day as a first-year student, I quickly recognized the academic excellence and the diversity among my peers, which makes the place so unique. Everyone has different interests, and it is fantastic to see people use their unique talents. Even when times are difficult at school, when there is a lot of work or when things are really hectic and busy, I can count on the people [at Princeton] to always be supportive of me, and I will never take that for granted.”
Brian Mhando is a contributing writer for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
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