By Mike Hamill
Ebento Akoi, a freshman midfielder for the Phantoms men’s soccer team, came to America in February to acquire a quality education and achieve his goal of becoming a soccer player in a land of “vast opportunities.”
Coming from Liberia, West Africa, Akoi said there are many talents that go to waste due to the lack of support.
“You’ll see a young footballer come home from practice and there’s no meal to eat,” Akoi continued. “He’s tempted to go out in the street to beg or possibly steal.”
According to Akoi, only a few Africans are given the opportunity to leave their homeland and become successful in the world, so he is working hard to achieve his dream.
“There are people in Liberia who need a role model, someone that will set an example for the young people to follow,” Akoi said.
At DCCC, Akoi joined a team that consists of players from all over the world, trying to achieve the same dream of being a soccer player and gaining a better education, while serving as role models for their people back home.
One thing that the team wasn’t short of was its diversity, as most of the team were native to other countries.
Only four of the 20 players were born in America, making the team about 80 percent international.
The men’s soccer team had a rocky season, finishing with a record of seven wins, six losses, and one tie.
The team qualified for the playoffs, but the Phantoms lost the opening game to Rowan College of South Jersey-Gloucester by a score of 5-0, ending the Phantoms season.
Head coach Ryan Griffith, who has been a part of the DCCC soccer program for 16 years, had a lot to say about the diversity of his team, given that he is originally from Barbados.
He explained even though most of the team may not speak English as their primary language, they all speak “soccer.”
“Though it wasn’t easy to come from different parts of the world,” Griffith said, “we all have this sport that we love, that we are able to share and bond over as a team.”
Akoi agreed that despite being from different cultures and speaking different languages, playing soccer brought them together.
“We all love soccer and we want to compete to win together,” Akoi said.
“That’s the understanding that we have. We don’t need to speak the same language to understand that.”
Most of the Phantoms players said they decided to attend DCCC for the reasonable tuition costs but more so for the ability to make a name, not only for themselves in hopes of becoming a professional soccer player, but also to represent their countries.
Freshman forward Jorge Barberan has been playing soccer since he was 10 and has developed a passion for the sport ever since he started watching professional soccer, particularly his favorite team, FC Barcelona from the Spanish soccer league, “La Liga.”
“I was interested in coming to an [inexpensive] community college to excel academically and help me achieve my dream of being a pro soccer player,” Barberan said.
Barberan said he plans to attend Temple University, where he hopes to continue playing soccer.
Although the Phantoms soccer season wasn’t a successful campaign, some players won individual awards based on their performances.
The Phantoms had three international players win All-EPAC awards, which are given to the players who had the most individual success throughout the season: freshman midfielder Danilo Ercole from Italy won first-team All-EPAC, while both freshman defender Albano Balili
from Albania and freshman Jorge Barberan from Ecuador won second-team All-EPAC.
Sara Steinman, the director of Wellness, Athletics, and Recreation, believes that the team’s diversity benefitted each player because it allowed them to grow as a person and player.
According to Steinman, on the first day of practice, the players were all strangers to
each other but as the season progressed, the team continued to come together as they began bonding on and off the field.
“I’ve never been a part of a team as diverse as this one and it really opened my eyes to see the different backgrounds and paths of life,” Steinman said. “As I got to know these guys more it allowed me to appreciate the development of each individual as a person and the bonds that were built between the players. It was incredible and it really shows the value that sports can have in people’s lives.”
Photos by Mike Hamil
Contact Mike Hamill at email@example.com