For those of you who were watching — and also mesmerized by — the Copa America Centanario, you’ll have noticed a few things. Firstly, Messi with a beard is no replacement for the good-old clean shaven version (see: Messi’s penalty in the Finals shootout). And secondly, the U.S. looked surprisingly dominant, thanks to a large pool of young talent.
DeAndre Yedlin. Bobby Wood. Christian Pulisic. These are some of the names that will come to define the Red White and Blue in the coming years. But could we be seeing some Red and Blue as well?
Rising sophomore Etan Mabourakh was also once on the same path as these icons and many others. Greatness has to begin somewhere.
In this case, the setting was Plantation, Fla., a sunny oasis just north of Miami. Across town is where Mabourakh played his club soccer at Weston FC, a team in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) — the fourth tier of the American soccer system. Touted as a top club nationwide, it is one of only 77 others that have been named by U.S. Soccer as a U.S. Soccer Development Academy program. Coincidentally, one the graduates of the program is Alejandro Bedoya, a mainstay in the national team roster.
With this strong foundation, Mabourakh was eyed early on by the elites.
“I first got involved through this scouting program called ODP (Olympic Development Program) which had regional tryouts, then state tryouts and then national tryouts,” said the goalkeeper. “I made it through the levels to the national pool and then you basically just wait to get called up.”
This labyrinth of talent is not easily traversed. As the pool quickly narrows down as the competition heats up, approximately just two percent of players can expect to progress all the way to the national scene.
Unfortunately, Etan’s journey ended here, as illness prevented him from taking his place in California for the national camp. But there is still a chance, as he explained.
“I’m still on the national pool, so if I do well this season I can get called again.”
That would be quite a heavy burden for the student athlete, as pushing for the top level is a grueling commitment. Can an Ivy League education and international soccer even coexist?
“The youth national teams work in cycles — whoever makes the team would go live at the residential training facility at IMG in north Florida, and they wouldn’t go to school,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a juggling act, more so a choosing one over the other.”
That would raise the question of which jersey he would pick. But the shot-stopper doesn’t plan on leaving his Quakers anytime soon.
“I’m happy with my own choice, I get to go to a great school and I really enjoy my academics and social life. Those things wouldn’t be possible if I wanted to truly pursue playing professionally.”
He then added, “I would never rule it out if I was presented with the opportunity, but I know my priorities.”
So Penn really benefited by recruiting the 13th-ranked goalkeeper in the country — with a little help from those Mabourakh knows best.
“The fact that my dad and my sister went to Penn made it an attractive option,” he said. “Both of them had really positive experiences [there] and met amazing people. I was really comfortable with the school, and when the coaching staff recruited me I couldn’t say no.”
In fact, his father Shahrad rowed crew for Penn, so the keeper has been a Quaker, in a way, for all his life.
Penn will hope to make the most of their diverse talent pool and make amends for last year’s failed campaign of 3-11-2 this fall.
While the goal of representing the USA on the big stage might just be a pipe dream for the Penn pre-med, Etan has not yet conceded.
“I’m hoping that I get another shot at it,” he noted.
Meanwhile, he’ll just have to watch the games from afar while taking breaks from mountains of school work.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.