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From NEFC To France

By Jason B, 10/30/20, 10:45AM EDT

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First of all thank you, Jeremy, for this discussion with us,  the first question which comes to mind is why play in Europe and France?

    Well, this is a long story everything so far has been about pushing the boundaries of what was possible.  I started my soccer journey playing town soccer like everyone else, then came the time to join a club to get to the next level. The club adventure is what gave me the foundation of my soccer today, especially at NEFC under the guidance of two great coaches Ed Kelly and Bobby Thompson who pushed me and showed me the way to hard work and really taking pride in what I was doing. I had the chance to play for some amazing NEFC Elite teams with unbelievable players.

While putting high hopes to join the New England Revolution Academy, I fell short, and even though being a very tough experience it only made me stronger and eager to work and progress to prove them wrong. My High School coach in the small town of Hopedale Greg Labrossiere also believed in me very early as I started in Varsity while entering 7th Grade.

It was then time to play for college and there again found an amazing multi-cultural team with Assumption College. Playing Division 2, winning the NE10 conference, and seeing my first NCAA tournament after only two seasons as a starter in an offensive midfield position under the guidance of two great coaches DJ Correa (who recruited me and believed in me first in college) and then Chris Payne whose experience was key especially when I shared my plan to move to France to play at a higher level.

Growing up watching the Premier League, La Liga, and French Ligue 1, I always had in the back of my mind to play in Europe and see how I would measure up and compete.

    

How did this project to play in Europe mature and how did everything happen?

My parents being from southern France, I started by sending recruitment videos to division 1 and 2 clubs in France but most of the recruitment does not happen that way. I then found the Etoile de Fréjus in the Var region about a 45-minute drive from my grandparents, a club in Div 4 team, with a great reputation, huge ambitions, and former French national team player Adil Rami’s team. They are building 4000 seat brand new soccer stadium for their first team currently in second place.  I was lucky to get invited two years ago for a week during Spring break to come and practice with the Reserve of their Division 4 team after they saw my recruiting video.

This was an amazing experience but it opened my appetite even bigger. I saw that I could compete with the guys on the field even if the game was slightly different than the US.  At the end of the week, it was too early to even try to move as I was in my first year of college but got invited by the coaches to come back anytime I wanted. The following year, I spent my Spring break with the Reserve again with the same great feeling and sense that I may need to push it to the next level.

2019 The COVID-19 hit and the  NCAA Division 2 soccer Fall season got canceled. There was no way I could stay a full year without playing.

So I called the Reserve coach and asked him if his offer to join the reserve was real and if he would have a spot for me on the team. He said to my surprise absolutely but one thing “You will have a spot in the team but no guarantee of a single minute of play. In our club only the best player play on weekends. We have a large roster of 31 players and only 16 are on the game sheet every weekend”, players for the division 4 first team also go down to play with the reserve. I did not need more and after a lot of convincing with my parents, they supported me and I moved to Fréjus in a small student flat near the stadium, ready for the challenge while taking college online classes. The funny thing is before each game the night before, you know if you are staying home, will be on the bench or part of the starting XI. If the coach gives you a jersey then you are on the team, if your jersey number is less than 11 then you are starting but the number also gives you tour position on the pitch. So nothing is won for sure you have to fight 200 % at each practice. Seniority plays very little role, you earn your spot fair and square.

    

 What was the first reaction when you got there?

Moving to a different country by myself even with family less than an hour away, leaving my parent, brother, friends, and dog behind was tough, it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do but Soccer is my passion.

I spoke the language but knew very little of the culture on and off the field having lived in the US all my life. On the team, I was the curiosity, the newbie and until I finally got my training jersey I was still the stranger, the player from the other side of the pond who came once a year for a week.

I felt very good technically and physically right away having trained very hard all summer. Due to the COVID, I arrived 3 weeks after the beginning of the team season start but I caught up very quickly. After two weeks of practice, then came the first scrimmage and I was happy to see 35 minutes of play which boosted my confidence especially with the great feedback from the coaches.

Then came the second scrimmage and after a lot of work at practice, I saw a full second half of play and my first goal of the season.

However, the surprises and good news kept on coming.

Being the newbie and with 6 players from the Div 4 coming down, 31 players on the reserve roster, and only 16 players called for the game, my hope was low to none. 
Based on my US experience I did not think I would see the field that quickly.

But I not only did I make the 16 but also made the starting XI and ended playing the full 90 minutes against RC Grasse for our first 2-0 win of the season. A few weeks later, I was called to participate in a scrimmage with the Division 4 team and ended up playing 12 minutes. This week I was called for what they call an « opposition game » where the first team starters play against the first team subs and some reserve players. Was nice to play the full 90 minutes and even though we lost 3-1, was able to score a nice goal.

I am simply dreaming awake.   

 

How is playing in France any different than playing in the US for Club or College?

First of all, the game is really different it is very technical, a lot faster but also tackles are a lot tougher. Because soccer is a low-income sport and social elevator, players fight and work to be successful, it is extremely competitive and not just a hobby, a lot of the players on my team have a family with kids. Surprisingly lines are more spread and I have a lot more time than to make my decisions and create.

Throughout my soccer journey in the US, I was always been told that my size would be a factor, that I was not tall enough or not big enough. Technical abilities, creativity, and game vision are extremely well rewarded in Europe it seems a lot more than in the US, at least that was my experience. I always had to work 10 times harder in the US just to prove that being 6 ft was not the most important thing for an offensive midfield, we seem to rely on size more than technique, abilities or game IQ sometimes. The preparation of the games is also very different we usually meet 4 to 5  hours before game time and the entire team has lunch or dinner together as a unit.

We have a big medical staff, physical trainers, and coaching staff and even with the reserve, the crowd is there for our games.

The other surprising thing is that no one is safe and every single player needs to fight for his spot but with great spirit.  It is very common for players from the first team to be brought down to the reserve as a sanction, boost, or for more playing time just for one game. Players from the reserve also have a path to the first team, after only one game one player from the first team went down and one of our reserve players went up and was integrated to the first team.  After each game players have a discussion with the coaching staff to discuss their game what they need to work on but also hear what they did well

        

 What are your plans for the future?

  Right now my goal is to continue to learn and grow as a player with the Etoile de Fréjus. I have proven nothing and need to work even harder to increase my instincts in front of goal, so much more work ahead of me. Already getting invited twice to practice and scrimmage with the first team has boosted my confidence enormously. These little things as players are huge and I always say confidence is so important for athletes. When the time comes next year I will have to decide if I go back to the US to play for a college team or stay and continue my soccer journey in France. Time will tell too early to think about that.

    

 Thank you for your time a few last words?

I hope this will inspire others to follow their dreams and give them a shot. I am only at the beginning of my journey. Thank you Hopedale High, NEFC, Assumption College, and anyone else along the way.