Translating to success

As a member of Atlanta United FC’s communications team, Justin Veldhuis ’12 often serves as interpreter for players and coaches.

Just a few hours south on I-85 from Elon, you’ll find one of Major League Soccer’s most exciting young clubs. Atlanta United FC — “The Five Stripes” — has already hosted, and won, an MLS Cup, hosted an MLS All-Star Game and won a U.S. Open Cup in just three seasons as an organization. Elon alumnus Justin Veldhuis ’12 has been along for the ride since the beginning.

“Part of what drew me to this club was the ambition,” says Veldhuis, who has been a communications coordinator for the team since its inaugural 2017 season. “I think Atlanta United has become a club with very high aspirations, and they’re a top MLS club in every way you measure.”

As a member of Atlanta United’s communications team, Veldhuis produces press releases and announcements, and serves as a liaison between the team and the media — local, national and international. But his job description includes another role that has made him a familiar face among Atlanta United supporters. Fans might have seen Veldhuis on Fox Sports or other broadcasts following Atlanta United matches, serving as interpreter for players and coaches. He has interpreted for current and former MLS stars such as Josef Martínez, Ezequiel Barco and Miguel Almirón, but admits the responsibility was especially intimidating at first.

“I showed up, and within the first couple of days, I was already having to interpret for our head coach, Tata Martino, at a press conference,” Veldhuis says. “So that was kind of like my ‘welcome to the job’ moment.”

Justin Veldhuis ’12

With three years of practice, Veldhuis is now comfortable in his role and sees each opportunity to interpret as an exciting challenge. “The hardest part is trying to be as accurate as I can whenever players and coaches are speaking because I know that whatever I say is probably what they’re going to be quoted for, so there’s a little extra pressure.”

Given his role with the team, some might be surprised to find that Veldhuis is not a native Spanish speaker. In fact, he only began learning the language in middle school and didn’t truly grasp it until his time at Elon. “I’d say I learned the most the semester I was abroad in Madrid when I was a junior at Elon. That’s when I was immersed in it for the first time and forced to speak it,” he says. That study abroad experience left such a mark, the journalism and international studies double major packed his bags and returned to Madrid post-graduation. Veldhuis spent two years teaching English at a secondary school in Spain. “Those two and a half years that I lived there were the most impactful in terms of learning the language,” he says.

Veldhuis would later supplement those experiences with an MBA and master’s degree in sports business management from the University of Central Florida. Following internships with MLS’s Orlando City and the Copa América tournament in 2016, Veldhuis landed his current role with Atlanta United, as the club looked to expand its footprint beyond U.S. borders. “The coolest part for me has been being at a club with such global aspirations,” he says. “And when I think about all the experiences and all the different competitions that I’ve had the chance to be part of in just three years, I think about how fortunate I am.”

Veldhuis says he’s grateful for his time at Elon and the study abroad experience that opened doors he’d never considered entering before. “That was the start to this path that I’ve been on ever since,” he says.