CASPER, Wyo. — Casper native Nikiphoros “Nichi” Vlastos has signed a contract with the St. Louis FC professional soccer team.
Vlastos was born in Casper and has played soccer “as long as I can remember.
He credits a former coach for much of his success.
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“Tom Price was a huge part of my development as a player back in Wyoming, and I would not be where I am without his constant support, and insight,” he said.
Vlastos thanks coaches Greg Rino and Matt Carey as well.
He started playing on teams when he was five or six years old at the YMCA, Vlastos says.
Vlastos’s father coached him since he started at the YMCA and he says his dad is his idol.
“I still look for feedback from him after every professional game.”
He continued playing at the Y until he was 10 or 11, then joined the Casper Soccer Club and was a member of Casper Blades teams.
Vlastos spent his freshman year playing soccer at Natrona County High School, but then moved to St. Louis to push for his goal to one day play professionally.
“My parents were willing to make that sacrifice,” Vlastos said.
Vlastos is listed as a midfielder on St. Louis FC’s roster.
“That’s pretty much where I’ve always played,” he said.
When he moved to St. Louis, he began playing with the St. Louis FC Academy U-19 team, which helps train players with dreams of becoming professionals.
“We knew there was an academy team year round,” Vlastos said of part of his family’s reason for selecting St. Louis as their destination. “One of the coaches was from Casper and we got connected with him.”
Vlastos, who has already made several appearances in St. Louis FC matches, began training on and off with the professional team back in January or February of 2017.
“I think that was a great progression for me,” he told Oil City on Wednesday, Aug. 7.
Before signing the contract with St. Louis FC two weeks ago, he finished out the season with his U-19 Academy team.
“We made the playoffs and finished third in the country,” Vlastos said.
But he played in a few professional games before signing his full contract, training regularly with the St. Louis FC since February. He’s seen some playing time since signing the contract as well.
The jump to the professional level is noticeable.
“I think the biggest difference is the speed of play,” Vlastos said. “These guys are more experienced.”
“You’re not allowed to have a lapse of judgement.”
Playing professionally comes with “physical and mental wear,” he adds.
He says it is important to approach his new position with the understanding that it is a job. That means focusing on getting the right amount of rest and eating healthy meals.
“We’ve talked and worked with a couple of dietitians,” Vlastos continued.
The team also provides some meals after training sessions.
Vlastos hopes that he can help the St. Louis FC improve their playoff position in the United States Soccer League Championship positioning.
“We’re sitting tenth in the League table,” he says, which puts them in playoff position.
The hope is that the team can move up to sixth or seventh before the playoffs begin.
“We always play really well at home,” Vlastos says.
The season is 34 games and there is also a U.S. Open Cup, which Vlastos says St. Louis FC finished in the quarterfinals.
If they make the playoffs, they could play between 40-44 games throughout the season.
“It’s pretty taxing,” Vlastos says.
He says that he keeps in touch with friends and family still in Casper.
“A lot of the guys who won the state championship for NC two years ago, I was good friends with a lot of them,” Vlastos says.
He would have been on that championship team if he hadn’t made the move to St. Louis.
“I definitely try to come back to Casper as much as I can,” Vlastos adds.
He says that it has taken a lot of hard work and dedication to reach this level and hopes to keep improving. That might allow him to join other professional teams in the United States or Europe.
Family support has also been crucial.
“My mom and brother have been unbelievable at encouraging and supporting me to pursue my goals my entire life,” he said.
Vlastos wants to be a role model for kids coming up in Casper and Wyoming.
“I think it is important for kids in Wyoming to keep fighting,” he says. “Hopefully kids from Wyoming can see what I’ve done and say ‘If I put in the work and sacrifices, I can also do that.'”
Vlastos wants kids to know that it isn’t easy, but hard work can pay off.
“This is attainable,” he said in conclusion.
Vlastos is now 19 years old and wears jersey number 29.