by Bob York
The Deerfield Academy boys soccer team is benefitting from foreign aid this fall. The global community has been kind to the Big Green, providing five international players for its varsity roster, “and I just can’t wait to pick their brains about their respective programs,” said Big Green Coach Jan Flaska. “Then, I’d like to try to incorporate some of the best things they have to offer into our program.”
Flaska, who sent eight additional foreign-born players to the JV team following preseason training camp, isn’t the least bit surprised by the number of international athletes who are now playing such an integral role in Deerfield’s program.
“Soccer’s a world game,” said Flaska of a sport that is played by an estimated 250 million players in over 200 countries. “There’s a reason why the championship is called the ‘World Cup.'”
Of the five international players on this year’s roster, two—Max McEvoy of England and Ian Kagame of Rwanda—played for the Big Green last year. The three newcomers are Anil Ozer of Turkey, Tomas Milmo of Mexico, and Luka Petkovic, who has dual citizenship in Serbia and Canada.
McEvoy, a junior, returns to the Big Green varsity for a second year, while Kagame, also a junior, made the transition to the varsity squad this fall following a season on the JV team. Ozer, meanwhile, has logged the most varsity experience of the five to date; heading into his rookie season at Deerfield, the postgraduate spent the past two years playing varsity soccer at South Kent School.
Despite their different starting points throughout the world and the varied ways they learned the fundamentals of the game, they’ve all made their way to the end of Old Albany Road and have quickly realized it’s the same game here as it was there: round ball … big goal … long field … no hands.
Although many similarities of this global game are easily discerned, there are a number of subtle nuances that some of the international players quickly picked up on. There’s one, however, that they all pointed to:
“The game of soccer that is played in the United States is much more physical than the game I grew up playing in London,” said McEvoy, whose playing time at both attack and midfielder earned him a varsity letter as a sophomore. “And by that, I don’t mean just the typical pushing and pulling that inevitably goes on to slow down an opponent. By being more physical, I mean the tackling is tougher, the collisions players have chasing down loose balls are more powerful, and even the headers are more highly contested here.”
“There’s a much more physical nature to the game here in the United States,” echoed the 6-5, 165-pound Kagame, who earned a shot on the Big Green’s varsity this fall after earning MVP honors last year, having led the JV team in scoring with 14 points on 11 goals and three assists. “Over here, there’s more of a tendency for an opponent to try to get you off your game … to separate you from the ball if you have it and keep you away from it if you don’t have it. Oftentimes, that means getting physical.
“But I also think that playing a more physical game is part of the culture here,” added Kagame, who plays basketball during the winter. “With national sports like football, hockey, and lacrosse exhibiting such a great amount of physicality, it’s not surprising that soccer has become a physical sport as well.”
Then, there’s Ozer’s approach to the physicality: “Here in the United States, I think the referees keep a close eye on the contact but they don’t make a habit of calling everything they see. They could, but I think for the most part, they just like to let you play the game.”
Another difference all five players have noticed is that the game here is much more technical than it is abroad.
“There’s more running and more passing here than there was in Mexico,” said Milmo, whose father attended Deerfield and played soccer for the Big Green, too. “And that means we have more drills during practice sessions than we did in Mexico.
“In Mexico, we spent most of our time scrimmaging at practice,” said Milmo. “Scrimmaging is definitely more fun than doing drills, but the coaches here are much more knowledgeable about the game. They know the drills are what’s going to make us better soccer players and that’s why they have us spend so much time practicing them.”
Heading into his third year of New England prep school soccer, Ozer gives the local coaching a thumbs-up as well.
“The soccer coaches I’ve been fortunate enough to play for here in the Unites States have been very knowledgeable of the game and have conducted their practices in a very organized manner,” said Ozer. “They make the most of every minute of their practices. They make sure their players are well conditioned and well drilled in the fundamentals.”
Athletic Director Chip Davis is another staunch advocate of Deerfield’s policy of reaching out to the global community.
“Deerfield Academy is committed to true global representation,” said Davis, “and I think it’s nice when some of the teams’ rosters reflect the true composition of the student body.”
As the school’s athletic boss, Davis has followed the increasing prominence that soccer has exhibited in the athletic arena on the Deerfield campus as well as throughout the world. And ironically, he finds himself following the game as an educator as well—but in a completely different venue. In the classroom, Davis’s game plan tracks the ramifications this global sport has imposed on the political and economic landscape of the world.
In fact, soccer is now playing such a dynamic role outside the stadiums of the world, shedding light on today’s global events from both political and economic perspectives, that Davis has been known to bring a book about the game to his Honors Economics class. But this ain’t a sports book. The book is titled How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization.
Jan Flaska was right: “Soccer’s a world game,” and unlikely as it sounds, it’s now a world barometer as well.