For the love of Soccer: Striving to Be Great

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By Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson

One of the things that I find the most admirable in the world of sports is an athlete who loves what he does. It is quite a treat to watch an individual who not only recognizes their potential, but wants to fulfill that with their dedication and passion.

What is passion? John Maxwell, a well-respected Evangelical once said that a great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position. At first glance, Eric Brown, a recent graduate and four year soccer letterman from Iona College looks like your average Joe. At about 6’1 and roughly 190 pounds (with wet clothes and a brick in his back pocket), Brown’s appearance and noticeably long hair may confuse you with Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash—a soccer stud, in his own right!

Don’t let that appearance fool you! Brown is an athletic freak of nature. As a senior in 2008 at Iona in New York, he ran the 40 yard dash in 4.5 seconds. This is very impressive for Brown, who was honored by Coach Fernando Barboto as the “best all-around athlete” on that Iona soccer team in the MAAC Division.

Most impressive is that during his senior year at Iona he also trained with the Brooklyn Knights soccer club. “I never want to fall short of the goals that I have for myself and I would be cheating myself if I didn’t give myself every opportunity to see that goal/dream develop into a reality,” says the lively athlete who flourishes at the Sweeper position on the field.

“He plays the physical game at a high level and he’s mentally and physically tough,” says Aaron Balber, General Manager of The New Jersey Rangers FC—a team Brown played for last year. When you engage in conversation with Brown, you notice his love for the game of soccer. “Soccer is such a beautiful game, and it is the world’s sport, there is nothing you can hate about that,” says Brown.
But where does he get that drive from?

On July 8, 1986, Eric Brown was born in the Garden State. Renata Aparecida da Costa, the midfielder from the Women’s Brazilian National team was born that day too. Obviously, Brown was not cognizant that he would become the soccer guy that he is now, but even during the formative year of his life he knew that he was born to play this game.

During a recent phone interview, Eric recalled going to watch his father play in the Men’s league in the prestigious Bergen County area of northern New Jersey.

“Every Sunday after church, my mom, sister, and I would go to my father’s games and spend the day watching the game and knocking the ball around with the other team mates. When I saw the bond they had and the types of people who played the game and how much fun they were having I knew that this was for me,” said the Ringwood, New Jersey native.

“He is the reason why I am today and I can’t thank him enough for making me who I am because my life is soccer; without soccer who knows where I would be or who I would be,” he added. It’s that desire and that encouragement that Brown always seemed to find or always came in his direction that seems to have molded him into the guy that is today.

“I love soccer because of my father, I can remember I always had a soccer ball at my feet or around the house,” said Brown. It’s that love for the game however, that makes a competitor want to compete on a night in night out basis.

Eric recalls vividly the knowledge that was given to him from Bryan Ward, a close family friend. Ward, an Englishman, was quite an influence in his life.

“Besides watching and talking with my father about the game, he used to ask me about my playing every time that I saw him and he just told me to keep it up,” exclaimed Brown.

Additionally, Ward encouraged Brown to never give up playing: “He constantly stressed to me that I was playing the greatest game in the world and to give it up would be a crime,” he continued.
Ward passed away on June 30th 2009 from cancer, but the knowledge and kind words will always stay with Eric. “I will cherish every word that he has ever spoken to me, and I believe that I at least owe it to him to give everything that I have to take myself to the next level,” he said.

During Eric’s high school career at Don Bosco Prep, an all-boys Catholic high school in Ramsey, NJ it was Brown who started to hone his craft and polish his skills. Brown who was coached by Roy Nygren, was a member of the 2002 Bergen County championship team and the 2002 – 2003 Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League Division C Championship team. To steal a phrase from the Anchorman, Ron Burgundy, “He’s kind of a big deal.”

He also garnered some respect from his fellow teammates: “Eric had a fantastic work ethic from what I remember,” says Ian Joyce, one of Brown’s teammates at Don Bosco Prep. Joyce, who plays goalie for Southend of the England premier league, also credits his leadership abilities: “He was a good leader in his class and always had great touches on the ball and good vision. Given his height he won a lot of balls in the air as well who now,” he added.

Soccer requires the will to win and the use speed. It also requires teamwork, leadership, and hard work. It was the late Vince Lombardi that said that the achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.

Since Eric was eight years old, he began playing in a club soccer league in Northern New Jersey coached by Tom Tucci. Coach Tucci, an honorable man of his word let his team know that if they played hard and worked together that he would place the team in overseas tournaments that would allow them to display their talents. Surely at eight years old the only thing on those kids minds might have been Wrestlemania X (that was a good Pay per view, by the way that’s when Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon had the ladder match for the Intercontinental title, but I digress) But when that team stayed together and played together, they were a force to be reckoned with.

During the summer of 2003, Eric along with his club league teammates went to face teams from Italy, Australia, France, and Germany and played with exuberance and a will to win. “The summer of 2003 when I traveled with my club team to Europe I was probably the greatest experience that I have ever had in my career to this point,” said Brown.

His professionalism is what surprised his coach the most. “Eric looked out for the team first and not himself as the individual player, I respect that a lot,” Tucci said. “He’s an extension of the coach on the field, and he picks his spots, and that makes him great, added Tucci. “He had the respect of his teammates,” he concluded.

Brown distinctly remembered his team having a meeting at the airport in London upon their arrival. During that time the team talked about what their goal was for the trip. “We don’t want to get killed, maybe tie one game and we will be happy,” said Brown.

The team actually did better than they expected. They actually won the Italy cup in that tournament and finished with two wins and one tie. “We flew home the next day with our heads held high, knowing we won the Italy Cup, and finished the tour with only one loss which was debatable,” said Brown.
“This was a life lesson for Eric and the guys that it doesn’t how skilled the other team is, if you work hard, good things will happen,” said Brown.

Life lessons, hard work, goals, aspirations, and dreams. Those are all things that have helped shaped Brown’s life experiences as a soccer player.
What’s next?

”I am not like most people you will find who are trying to break into professional athletics,” started Brown. “All I want is to still love the game of soccer and to have fun playing, I don’t care about the money or the fame or the crazy life of a superstar. I am doing this for the pure love of the game,” Brown added.

According to his agent, Ryan Badu of Evolution Sports management a London based football agency, they are in the process of speaking with one club in Sweden and two in Holland. As per league policy, those team names may not be disclosed.

“Eric is a defender with some exceptional qualities,” says Badu . “He is very fast, has good height and jumps very well,” Badu continued. “He has all the attributes to be a very good defender, because of his inexperience he will be better suited to right back at this moment however I am sure that he can develop into a good central defender,” he added. “At this stage he is still potential. Jay De Merit had very similar qualities without the speed that Eric has and he is now on your national team.” he concluded.

This sounds very promising for Eric Brown. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.