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After an impressive first season for the Quakers, sophomore Firas Kora has his eyes on the starting center back job. 

Credit: Son Nguyen

Penn men’s soccer’s season may be in limbo, but sophomore defender Firas Kora will be ready when it comes.

While many see the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to take it easy, Kora is going out of his way to keep training hard. After logging a respectable 200 minutes on the field last year, he is hoping to secure a place as the starting center back in next season’s lineup.

Kora began playing soccer after being inspired by televised matches as a child. Born in Cotonou, Benin, he moved to Ghana’s Right to Dream Academy not long after starting the sport when he was 10 years old. He then moved to Manchester, England when he was 13 to attend the famed Manchester City Academy. 

Kora and his family were not satisfied with the academics there, though, so he left two years later to transfer to The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, one of the most prestigious high schools in the country, to get a better balance. There, he became a four-year letter-winner and a 2017 and 2018 All-State and NEPSSA All-Star player.

“My parents, my mom especially, were not in love with me playing there [Manchester Academy] just because my education was a little neglected, so that’s why I made the transition from England to boarding school because it was almost the best of both worlds: one of the best educations in the country but at the same time getting to play soccer,” Kora said.

Kora's education has helped him succeed at Penn, where he has continued to excel on the field, largely in thanks to his continued work ethic off the field. 

Last semester, in a sub-optimal situation with scant resources, Firas became a better player by working out with a trainer three times per week, playing with friends, and reflecting on necessary areas of improvement while also spending time with his host family in Connecticut and studying.

Now back in Philadelphia in the midst of a continuing pandemic, Kora has kept up the balancing act. With no access to official training facilities or practice with team coaches, he and the teammates he’s living with have rented space at The Proving Grounds, a sports complex in Conshohocken, Pa. and hired a coach to work with three times a week. They also lift twice a week and join team-wide Zoom meetings where they present personal goals and study film.

Kora is also focusing on school, a key part of why he chose Penn over universities with higher-ranked teams but less prestigious academic rankings, such as Wake Forest. 

 “I wanted to go somewhere where I had options right when I graduated. I’m not opposed to the idea of pursuing soccer professionally, but at the same time I’m focusing on my academics as well and making sure I do the best I possibly can to have the best options available for when I graduate,” said Kora, who is a prospective PPE major.

Despite everything on his plate, Kora's teammate describes him as a blast to be around. 

“He’s really fun off the field. Loves being around the guys and is just a really good teammate to have,” Kades said. “When we’re around him, everyone’s just having a good time, joking around, and everything’s really light. That’s kinda why we’re so close.”

With a new season perhaps on the distant horizon, Kora’s main personal goals are to take over the starting center back spot of the recently graduated Casey Barone and communicate more on the field to improve the backline. Most importantly though, he wants to help Penn clinch its first Ivy League title since 2013 and a spot in the NCAA playoffs after finishing second in the Ancient Eight last season.