New League of Nations Brings Home World Cup Fever

New League of Nations Brings Home World Cup Fever

Hot on the heels of the FIFA World Cup, a similarly international-style but local-scale tournament brings together passionate State College football players to crown a champion who earns bragging rights and a gold trophy .

This year is the first for the Nations League, which consists of players from the Center Soccer Association’s adult recreational Premier League. The players are local residents, Penn State students, and even former Penn State athletes.

Members of the league, wearing the shirts of the national teams of Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Italy, will start the competition on January 8 in a group stage that will see each team play the other team twice at the Nittany Valley Sports Centre. The group will determine the seeding for the semi-finals in February, and the championship will follow on February 26. The winners will be able to pass the gold trophy between them until the next tournament in 2024.

The Nations League was organized by Daniel Haverkos, a resident of State College who was looking for a way to generate excitement for the World Cup locally by creating an internationally themed event. Some players in the tournament come from countries like Colombia, Guatemala, UK, Russia, Afghanistan and many more.

“My hope and vision for the Nations League is to bring together the best players in State College to compete at the highest level while showing respect for all,” said Haverkos, who was a goalkeeper at the University of Richmond in the late 1990s and is known for nailing bicycle kicks in the adult league. “The way players, coaches and referees, sponsors, media and friends, family and fans have rallied to build excitement ahead of this inaugural season has exceeded all expectations so far.

“It was amazing to see the beautiful game embraced with so much heart, where football is usually defined by one of the best pigskin college programs in the country.”

The captains drafted the players at the end of 2022, and the teams are playing seven-a-side, with plenty of time for substitutes. There are no slide tackles allowed to keep it clean, fun and respectable.

League organizer Daniel Haverkos (Photo by Tim Weight)

Catalin Prbag is the captain of the Argentina team. He was born and raised in Romania and played in the youth academy of Steaua Bucharest, one of the top teams in the country. As a young adult, he played for a third division club and tried out for a Bucharest professional team but did not make the squad.

He has continued to play with friends in his home country and has continued to play recreationally since arriving in the United States in 2005. He enjoys playing with other football-loving athletes who come from all over the world. and end up at State College like him. . He expects to be a defender.

“It brings people together for football,” says Prbag, who co-owns The Cove pizzeria in College Township with his wife.

Jacob Rieker, a Penn State graduate student, plays on the Argentina team as a goaltender. He grew up playing football, but a concussion in a high school game spelled the end of his competitive career. He was clearing a ball when a 220-pound forward kicked him in the head. He went to the hospital and has no recollection of the incident (although he finds some solace in his team’s victory in his absence).

Today, he is a doctoral student a year and a half from the defense of his thesis in applied linguistics. Playing in a recreational league and being drafted for this event is a welcome respite from his studies. He is one of the few to only play as a goalkeeper. He was even the recipient of the Center Soccer Association’s Golden Glove, an honor that goes to the best goalkeeper.

“This is my release,” he said.

Kenny Grabey, from Bellefonte, is the captain of the Italy team. He has been playing football since he was four years old, including two years at Penn State Hazleton, and as an adult he played in the Center Soccer Association and coached youth football.

On the field, he plays the central defender for the defense.

“It’s fun, it’s friendly. I like it, and it’s a lot better than sitting on the couch,” Grabey says.

Anna Belpedio is also part of the Italy squad. She says local recreation leagues have become her social group and a major way for her to stay active now that she’s years away from playing college football in NCAA Division II Winona State in Minnesota.

She says she has stopped playing goalkeeper – she wants to avoid diving and hitting the ground – and expects to play in central midfield or as a forward striker. She is looking forward to participating in the first version of the tournament.

“I try to put perspective, put my teammates on their feet and be in the best possible position as a team player,” she says.

Otis Lyons, a junior journalism student at Penn State, is one of the youngest players in the adult leagues. He played college football in high school in the Bay Area of ​​California, but dropped out of the sport to attend Penn State.

A die-hard football fan, he says he watches it religiously on TV and follows leagues around the world. “My Tuesdays and Wednesdays are dedicated to football.”

His favorite teams are his hometown San Jose Earthquakes in Major League Soccer, Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany and a team in Thailand that he stumbled upon with a friend.

After the hiatus from sports between high school and his early years at Penn State, Lyons is thrilled to be back on the court. He is a central attacking midfielder – a position that creates goals through assists or scores goals – or a striker.

Konstantin Guryev, a PhD in economics from Penn State, started playing in the Premier League in 2021. He was a striker, captain and top scorer for his team in the Moscow State University system before coming to the United States .

He says football brings him peace, and he’s played his whole life, from growing up in Russia to his time at Penn State. In Russia, he was a dancer before getting into football. He also played table tennis, beach volleyball and badminton and competed in swimming and athletics. When the league starts in January, he will be ready.

“My true passion is any sport, and I can hardly imagine being without it,” he says. T&G

Mike Dawson is a freelance writer living in College Township. This story appears in the January 2023 issue of Town&Gown.

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