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A global sport

A global sport

Thomas Columbus October 09, 2019

About a quarter of a century ago, Dennis Currier took over as head men’s soccer coach at a small NAIA school. “It was the worst team in the country when I started,” he said.

Recruiting in the area around the school was difficult because of competition from successful programs nearby. So he looked for help from afar. “I had played in England, so I connected with a buddy there and asked him if he knew of anybody there who might want to play soccer in the United States.”

He knew of one player, and that was the beginning. Within five years Currier’s team was one of the best in the NAIA.

When Currier became Dayton’s head coach in 2005, most of the team was from Ohio. Not so now. The current team has players from nine countries beside the United States, which is represented by nine states. In the last 15 years, players have come to UD from 30 countries.

Here are stories of three of them.

The professional

Lalas Abubakar ’16 may not be exaggerating by much when he says he started playing soccer as a baby. In his early years with the game, he played on dirt fields in Ghana. Today he plays for Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids, on loan from the Columbus Crew, who drafted him No. 5 in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

Coach Currier came to Ghana in 2013, Abubakar said, to watch Amass Amankona ’15, a friend from the same town. “I was there, too,” Abubakar said. “They picked Amass.”

The next year, however, Abubakar was also offered a scholarship. Before making his decision, he had a shot at a pro tryout in Europe. He chose UD.

“Amass and a couple other guys picked me up at the bus station in Dayton. It was a beautiful campus. I loved it.

“I made a very good decision.”

Once on campus, he had a short time to adjust to a new system and college academic life. “The coaches told me,” he said, “it’s not going to be easy. You have a few weeks to adjust. We need you. We want you to adjust quickly.”

He said academics “were a bit of a struggle at first. I did my best. I worked hard.” He credits many who helped him, particularly Vera Gomes and Jenifer Gerard in the academic services office of the athletics division.

“I adjusted. I got the grades,” said the economics major.

“Dayton, I will always call it home. I can never pay them back.”

The pastor

Abraham Keller ’14, the son and grandson of pastors, grew up in Switzerland and went to Scotland on a soccer scholarship. Then he got offers from schools in the U.S. and elsewhere.

“I always wanted to go to America,” he said. “Coach Currier called me the most. I thought, ‘He’s working the hardest to get me.’ So I went to UD.”

On his first day in Dayton, he said, “teammates showed me around campus and introduced me to their friends.” One person he met that day was Jeanna Schuster ’14.

Shortly after graduation, Jeanna, a dietetics major, and Abraham, a communication major, married each other.

Also that year, he hired an agent and prepared for the MLS draft. As he was doing so, he began to think. He thought of being married. He thought of maybe one day becoming a pastor.

Then, he said, “I realized that God was calling me to be a pastor now. I felt called to learn. And Jeanna felt called to go to Switzerland.”

So they moved to Switzerland. He began his pastoral preparation in his parents’ church. And this February, he officially became a pastor. His church, a member of the International Christian Fellowship, is in Winterthur, Switzerland.

After a busy five years — filled with study and the addition of two daughters and a foster son to the Keller family — “working as a pastor,” Keller said, “is a beautiful thing.”

The gambler

At the age of 11 Florian Decamps ’09 was recruited by the Cannes, France, football club’s academy, which has formed players including the French great Zinedine Zidane. Decamps played seven years there, then played on a team in the French fifth division. While he was in college in France, UD offered him a soccer scholarship.

The fact that there were a number of other people on UD’s team who were from outside the U.S., he said, “was good because there were people in a situation like mine.”            

And, he added that they were strongly supported in their studies. After graduating with a degree in international business, he traveled to several countries and played soccer professionally in Iceland.

When asked what business he is now in, he laughed. “I’m not in business,” he said. “I play poker.”

He had played cards as a child with his family. His older brother, a professional soccer player for more than a decade, eventually started playing poker for fun.

“He said I should try it,” Decamps said. “One day I won $3,500. I said, ‘I can do this.’”

So Decamps, himself no longer a professional soccer player, now plays that game just for fun. His current career is playing poker.

“It is stressful,” he said, “but it’s more like a sport than a business.”

He also noted that, as he was being interviewed for UD Magazine, he was on the French Riviera, between Cannes and Nice, looking out at the Mediterranean Sea.