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The Standard

The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

Students travel to America for soccer tournament


There is still a hint of disbelief in Ethan Novak’s (’18) tone when he explains how he brought the score level to 3-3 against Yale University’s Division I men’s soccer team.

Leading Yale 1-0 at the half, Novak couldn’t help but feel a sly sense of confidence as the disgruntled Yale players “looked at each other and started asking ‘What is going on here? How is this happening?’”

Despite the chasm between the teams with regard to age, experience and size, the result was perhaps not as bewildering to Novak as the Yale players suggested. “We put up as much of a fight as probably some of the teams in their regular season do, that was a shock to them but for us it really acted as motivation and affirmed we can probably play at [their] level,” Novak said.

Before facing Yale, Novak, along with Zayn Daniels (’18) and Kelyn Howell (’18) had traveled to Dallas, Texas to compete in the Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup. The competition is an international youth tournament, which draws some of the most competitive teams from around the world such as Liverpool and Fulham’s academies, and even the U-20 United States Men’s National Team (USMNT).

Daniels, Howell and Novak entered the tournament unaffiliated with ASL, under the recommendation of former Varsity Boys Soccer Coach Akay Mustafa. Mustafa knew a coach who was constructing a team of international students from Singapore and Japan, and it was with this team that the sophomores entered the tournament.

But before the team was accepted, all three boys had to complete a rigorous application process. Howell explained the application included an interview as well as the submission of an athletic resume and game tape.  

The physical and mental demands of the tournament were taxing for all three, but not beyond their abilities.  

Howell described a typical day consisted of a 5:30 or 6:30 a.m. wake-up to play a match, college tour during the afternoon, rounded off by several hours in the car, traveling to the next destination. By the end of the ninth match, the pre-game routine had become somewhat second nature for all three boys: Final meal four hours before a game, followed by some downtime, a tactics session, pre-game talk, warm-up and then kick off. Immediately following each game the recovery process of ice baths and protein shakes started in order to prepare for the next day.

While a naturally competitive player like Daniels had the ambition of succeeding in the tournament, even he admits winning the cup was not the initial aim of the trip. “Before this trip I wanted to see if I was capable of playing [Division I or Division II soccer], and that’s what we went to find out in Dallas,” Daniels said.

For Howell and the other boys, the trip not only provided firsthand exposure to collegiate soccer, but also attracted interest from coaches. “The main purpose is not really to win, it’s more to get yourself interested to a coach and to get a coach to want to recruit you to their program,” he said.

And this was an odd adjustment for all three. Playing as individuals – and under the scrutiny of interested coaches – added a layer of pressure to the game, which could have resulted in disaster.  

Nonetheless, Howell maintained that despite it being an “an individual experience at times” by the end of the tournament the team had come together significantly and individual achievements could be celebrated collectively.

For all three, unlike the matches they play at home, the score was of less concern  because long before the tournament started, the boys and their team were at a serious disadvantage. “It was tough because we played against three club teams who we learned after the matches had been playing together for 10 or so years while we were a new team of individuals who were just brought together,” Novak said.

The team ultimately lost their first game, drew their second and lost their third, failing to progress past the group stages.

After the tournament, the boys, along with the same team they competed with in the Dallas Cup, traveled to Washington D.C. where they toured 18 universities and faced off against against top teams like Yale.

But as Daniels, Howell and Novak all reflect back on their performances in Dallas and along the East Coast, defeat hardly comes to mind. “After the tournament it seemed that college coaches were more interested in us, and they actually emailed us with less of a generic email, and more of a personal note which was great, and I feel after this trip that I definitely am more than capable of playing [Division I soccer],” Daniels said.

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