The Daily Pennsylvanian asked Matt Leigh of Penn men's soccer 15 questions about his sport, his time at Penn, and life overall. Here's what the junior had to say.
1. Would you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Matthew Leigh. I'm a junior in Wharton from Boston, MA. I'm studying finance and management, and I'm a striker on the Penn men's soccer team.
2. What is your earliest memory of playing soccer?
Believe it or not, I used to hate soccer. My parents forced me to keep playing it, and I was the type of kid that would pick dandelions in the long grass and didn’t really pay attention to the game. Then something completely changed when I was in first or second grade and I finally scored my first goal, and that satisfaction completely changed my trajectory and enjoyment for the sport.
3. What's your favorite team?
My favorite team is Liverpool, and it's always been Liverpool. My dad worked for New Balance in Boston and they were the major sponsor for Liverpool, so that was also a huge incentive for us to support the team.
4. Who would you name as your first XI out of any players in the world?
I would put Jamie Vardy as the striker because that’s the player I most try to emulate play-wise. Definitely not one of the best 11 in the world, but I would still put him in. On the right, I would put Mohamed Salah on the wing. And then on the left, I would probably put Cristiano Ronaldo. I'm not a tremendous Messi fan, but I just think it's impossible to not leave him out. So I would play him center attacking mid. And then underneath him — one of my favorite players of all time, a player for who I kind of fell in love with soccer and fell in love with Liverpool — Steven Gerrard. [Gerrard] next to Iniesta. Center backs — I’m going to put Virgil Van Dijk there because I love him. And let’s say Rio Ferdinand back in the day.
There are players that I definitely might rate higher than him, but I really like his style and play and character — I'm going to put Robertson as left back. I’ll put Dani Alves at right back, when he was in his prime.
5. Would you name your two most memorable moments in soccer — one you were personally involved in, and one you have seen by a professional player?
The best moment for me was winning the national championship with my club soccer team in my junior year of high school, right after committing to Penn. We had lost the year before in the National Championship final, and we won the entire thing that year.
The most memorable moment recently while watching soccer would probably be — I mean, I was put in tears when Liverpool won and released a title video in the middle of COVID. We can’t be together right now and celebrate, but there will be a time for us. It speaks to just the world in general right now. And I was crying like on the way home after — just being happy, because I've always supported them as a kid.
6. Do you have any game day rituals or superstitions?
I like to always shower right before a game. A lot of kids in our team specifically will listen to music and stuff in the locker room, and we'll all be that energetic vibe. I put on my own headphones. And I literally isolate myself in a set place in the locker room. And I kind of go through my own thinking — I think about what I want to do and what I want to accomplish in the game. And I can just get myself out of all the hype that's going around and just focus on myself.
7. Speaking of music, if you could describe your play style with a song or album, what would it be?
I like the 21 Savage album “i am > i was.”
8. What is your favorite football stadium or arena?
Of all the stadiums I've went to, my favorite stadium is actually the Allianz Arena for Bayern Munich.
9. Have you always played as a striker?
I've always been a forward or a winger. In high school, there was kind of the debate about whether or not I'd be better off on the wing or center for college. And I think, as Coach Gill and I just got to Penn, he saw more benefit me being in the center of the field rather than being out wide.
10. What sport outside of soccer would you most like to try?
I'd really like to be good at hockey. I've never tried hockey, but I love watching hockey, and I think just like a lot of the fundamentals of the sport can pass over to soccer. But it couldn't be a more different sport at the same time, and I just love the intensity and the pace of it.
11. What is one interesting fact about yourself that nobody really knows?
I can speak pretty fluent German. I studied abroad in Germany for two years in high school. I have a very good familiarity with German culture. And just Munich in general — specifically the city — I kind of know how everything's set up there.
12. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
The best advice I've ever received is that [soccer] is so much more than just the individual. It takes so much coachability and individual effort for an entire team to make the program move forward and tick. So I kind of started to put a duty of care on my own work and my own self-improvement way more than in high school. It would be on me, and if my team couldn't do anything, I didn't do enough. I really see the value of not only getting coached by the coaches, but also helping coach your teammates and help bring everyone else up to just move the program forward.
13. The world is ending in 24 hours. What do you do?
If the world were ending in 24 hours, I would fly back home to Boston and I would spend those 24 hours with my family and my loved ones back there. I don't know if that's a soft answer, but that's probably how I would do it. I have two dogs that I love very dearly.
14. If you could be the best at one talent outside of soccer, what would it be?
I would just say overall stock investing. I find the market — just the world of brokerage firms and hedge funds — so incredibly interesting. I've been teaching myself about investment management and personal finance, but Wharton has also taught me a lot.
15. What does Penn men’s soccer mean to you?
Quite honestly, I would say what Penn soccer meant for me as a freshman was so much less than what it means now. As a freshman, I came in, and Penn soccer meant a Division I school and an opportunity to play at an Ivy League, and play with some good players. But now I've really realized that this team and this program more so embodies a brotherhood. I've really created such a great bond with so many kids on these teams and so many within the athletic program. And at the same time, I think everyone here and in this program does a great job of really buying into the process. I just think I've never been part of a group where everyone's so invested in getting something right, in turning something around. Because when I got here as a freshman, the team wasn't as successful as it is now. And I think our grade primarily is a major part of that because we were the first grade that came in with Coach Gill as a head coach.
Basically, the soccer team means to me leadership, and almost growing up, and figuring out real-world problems and working together — because I think so many things that this team has taught me will prepare me for work outside of soccer.
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