Story Courtesy: http://www.columbian.com/

 

For many Vancouver Victory FC players, the first-year soccer team in the first-year semi-pro Evergreen Premier League has provided a chance to spend summer close to home.

For Avier Christian, Tevaughn Harriette and Jamoy Stevens, playing for the Victory has been about expanding horizons. During their summer 4,000 miles from home, the three players from the Caribbean island of Antigua have experienced a different style of soccer, a cooler climate, and life in the Pacific Northwest.

“I’d never been to the U.S. When this opportunity came, I was really excited. When I got here (in May) it was freezing,” Harriette said with a smile, a sentiment echoed by Christian and Stevens.

Harriette, a forward, has been a regular starter during his time with the Victory. Stevens and Christian have mostly come off the bench to play in midfield. Harriette and Stevens each have one goal in Evergreen Premier League matches.

Victory FC coach Biniam Afenegus played college soccer at Concordia University in Portland with Lennie Quashie, who is president of one of the soccer clubs in Antigua. Their friendship brought three players to the Victory this season, and Afenegus said it is likely more players will come to Vancouver in future seasons.

Climate aside, the Antiguans quickly warmed to their summer home and to the team.

On the field, the players said it took some time to adjust to playing on artificial turf fields and to the more physical style of the game played by college players. And the three weekly training sessions were more intense than the usual practices for their club teams in Antigua.

“From Day one it was much more work,” Christian said. “Your fitness level has to be high.”

Another eye-opening difference: With more than 30 players on the Victory FC roster, competition for playing time is intense, something these players don’t experience as some of the top players on their Antigua club teams.

“The energy level is very high here,” Stevens said. “You feel like you have to keep up with the thinking part of the game and keep your mind quick as your feet.”

The Antiguans are some of the younger players in the Evergreen Premier League and have had to learn to battle with more mature opponents, Afenegus said. They have also had to adapt to playing a role in a team that is more tactically structured than their clubs at home.

Stevens has lived with Victory FC owner Barrett Goddard’s family. Christian and Harriette have lived with Tony and Kenalyn Ayala.

“We just wanted to give them a place to call home” and be comfortable, Tony Ayala said.

Tony Ayala said getting to know the Antiguans has been a fun experience for his son Xavier, 7, and daughter Imani, 5. Trips to the beach and activities such as kayaking have been part of the fun as the players have experienced varied aspects of Northwest living.

The highlight, according to Ayala, was a May trip to Mt. Hood where the Antiguans experienced snow for the first time.

“They’re really being immersed in the American culture,” Afenegus said.

It works both ways. Afenegus said one motivation for bringing in players such as the Antiguans is to build relationships and to allow local players to learn about a different culture.

“Our goal is to make our guys better soccer players and also better people,” Afenegus said.

The Antiguans came to Vancouver as established players in their homeland. Harriette, 19, and Christian, 18, returned home recently to play for the Antigua and Barbuda under-20 national team in a CONCACAF Caribbean regional U-20 FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament.

They helped their team to second place in its group and are waiting to learn if they will advance in qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. Harriette scored twice in a 3-0 win over the Dominican Republic. Antigua and Barbados also tied Bermuda and lost to Guadaloupe.

Stevens, 20, was too old to play in that tournament. He has represented his country at the under-20 level and has trained with the senior national team. Harriette has also spent time with the senior national team.

The three players return next week to their eastern Caribbean home, a 108-square mile island where they play for different clubs in the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association. In addition to the growth that springs from spending three months in a new culture, their time with Victory FC should help them to more success on the soccer field.

“We run a lot here, so the work ethic is great. It helped me improve on my game,” Stevens said. “The (artificial) turf is really fast, so I think it helps to improve our speed on the field, too.”