Even within Section II, soccer is an international game.
This year, at least, that’s the case on the boys’ side, where several players on area high school squads were playing the game in much different places a year ago.
Shenendehowa’s Trevor Chung, a sophomore, was competing for a club in Spain. Amsterdam freshman Ever Arevalo was still playing in his native El Salvador. Niskayuna junior Alex Koudal learned Danish as he went along playing soccer while attending school in Denmark.
“I knew nothing of the language, really, when I first went over there,” said Koudal, who spent an exchange year going to a school in a country where he is a citizen and his father was born. “But hearing it all around, you eventually learn some of it.”
That’s how Chung, who grew up in Oregon, learned enough Spanish during his time playing for an RCD Espanyol club team just outside of Barcelona. It was frustrating, he said, not to be able initially to communicate easily with his new teammates and friends. That’s what Arevalo, who knew virtually no English when the school year started earlier this month, is dealing with this season for the Rams.
“He did ask me the other day [in English] if he could use the bathroom, so he’s learning fast,” said Amsterdam head coach Christopher Modelowski, a 2008 Amsterdam graduate whose parents grew up in Poland. “But for the first two weeks of the preseason, he basically didn’t know any English other than ‘Yo.’ ”
Besides Arevalo, Amsterdam has two players who grew up in El Salvador and speak fluent Spanish — sophomores Yony Batres and Kevin Vargas, the former being a first cousin of Arevalo and the latter serving as the primary translator between Arevalo and his English-speaking teammates.
“The experience of it all,” is what Arevalo, using Vargas as a translator, said he’s liked best about his few months of experience so far in the United States. “I’ve never been in a place like this before.”
Arevalo is one of Amsterdam’s more talented players, but his skills are raw and Modelowski said the 15-year-old is still learning the finer points of the game. Generally, though, Arevalo’s usually finds his way to the right place.
“Soccer is a universal language,” Amsterdam junior Misha Murdock said. “You can point or do hand gestures and he knows what to do. It can be hard not being able to talk to him . . . but with him coming from El Salvador, he knows soccer. He knows the game.”
Koudal learned the game better while in Denmark. He played on a club team while attending school in Aalborg, and had to acclimate himself to the quickness with which his new teammates made decisions on the field.
“I think ahead more now about where I’m going to pass it or whether I should dribble,” Koudal said. “I make decisions faster now.”
That’s helped Koudal contribute significantly for the Silver Warriors this season. But head coach Joe Carosella — who teaches German at Niskayuna High School — is more impressed with the change he’s seen off the field from Koudal since he returned from his year abroad.
“He strikes me as more independent,” Carosella said. “He’s more confident and seems more sure of who he is.”
That’s how Koudal feels, too. In Denmark, he said he took each class with the same group of 20 other students. The camaraderie he experienced there with his peers, he said, made an impression upon him.
“There’s less drama there, so to speak, than in high school here,” he said. “I don’t care as much now about my social reputation. I care more about things like college or what’s next.”
Of course, there’s another side to that. Chung left his Oregon home for Spain while he was in middle school. After nearly two years of focusing heavily on soccer while taking online classes, his decision to head to Shenendehowa was an easy one.
“I wanted to go to high school [in the United States] pretty bad,” Chung said. “I’d never experienced it.”
Chung’s family moved to the Capital Region last year — his older brother Tyler played for Saratoga Springs in 2015 — and he moved back to the United States early this past summer. Plainsmen head coach Jonathan Bain said he found out Chung’s family had moved into the Shenendehowa district just more than a week before the preseason started.
“We didn’t really know what to expect from him,” Bain said. “We just knew he’d lived in Portland first and played at a high level [in Spain]. It was a matter of finding where he’d fit into our team.”
Chung — who has a team-best six goals this season — has become a playmaking midfielder for the Plainsmen, a player Bain said possesses his team’s best technical skill set. Chung said he’s having fun on the field, but even more off of it. He’s enjoying living back with his parents after spending his time in Spain in a dormitory-like setting. Meanwhile, his soccer teammates have quickly become some of his best friends, and the chance to see them during the school day is not one he takes for granted.
“That’s not something I got to do in Spain,” he said.