Only two Cavaliers have the privilege of calling themselves a No. 1 overall draft selection in the Major League Soccer Draft. StreakingtheLawn recently sat down with one of them: Alecko Eskandarian, who played for Virginia from 2000-2002. He was named ACC Rookie of the Year in 2000 and Soccer America’s College Player of the Year in 2002. Also in 2002, he was awarded the prestigious Hermann Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top male and female college soccer players.
Following his college career, Alecko, a striker, played for D.C. United for four years before shuffling around between Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA, and finally, L.A. Galaxy. He also played on the 2003 United States national team and remains in the U.S. National Team pool. In 2004, he played on the U.S. Olympic team. He and the L.A. Galaxy recently captured the Western Conference Championship and will be facing Real Salt Lake on November 22 for the 2009 MLS Cup.
STL was able to get a few minutes of this hotshot’s time to chat about his career, his Virginia experience, and his inspiration for it all.
StreakingtheLawn: As the most recent of just three Virginia Cavaliers to have won the Hermann Trophy, as a Soccer America College Player of the Year, and as an overall #1 draft pick in the MLS, you had a pretty remarkable career at Virginia. Can you talk about that? Have you been able to make it back?
Alecko Eskandarian: My career at UVA is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. What most people don't know is that I took a pretty big gamble by attending UVA. I had the least scholarship of any of the freshman, and was joining a team that had their 2 starting forwards returning. I remember telling myself and my parents that I just wanted one semester at what I consider the best school in the country to challenge myself and see where I stack up against the best. It took a lot of hard work and commitment, but UVA gave me everything I wanted and more in return. The awards are nice, but the teammates and coaches I had and the experiences we shared together are what really made me evolve as a player and as a person.
Since I left school early to turn pro, I have kept my promise to my Mom to earn my degree by taking classes on the side. So at one point when I was playing for D.C. United, I commuted from DC to UVA twice a week to take classes. Since I have moved all over the country since then, it has been tougher to make it back. But I am planning on attending J Term in January so it will be nice to be back in C-ville.
STL: What is your favorite memory of U.Va., either on or off the field?
AE: There are so many memories that I will never forget on the field. My first game and my first goal, the goal vs. UCLA my sophomore year, the goal vs. Maryland and Temple in my junior year. They all stand as defining moments for me in my evolution as a soccer player. Moments where I proved to others and to myself that I could maybe become a professional soccer player someday. Off the field, I will always remember how beautiful it was to just walk around the campus. Charlottesville is definitely different then where I am from in northern New Jersey, and I loved the change of pace it had to offer. The students are really what makes the city though, and I definitely enjoyed meeting and becoming great friends with a lot of my fellow UVA students and athletes.
STL: The Virginia men’s soccer team finished the regular season ranked No. 6 nationally, won the ACC Championship, and is seeded No. 2 in the NCAA Tournament. Have you been able to keep up with this year’s team? Any thoughts?
AE: I try to watch games whenever I can. I would go down to watch some games often when I was playing for DC. Nowadays I just check the UVA sports website once a week to see how we are doing and I keep tabs on some of the players. I have a lot of pride to be part of the UVA soccer program and I want to see it continue to grow and succeed. I know we have some talented young players there right now and look forward to seeing some of my records being broken by these guys.
STL: Your father played for the Iranian national team in the 1978 World Cup prior to playing for the New York Cosmos. How has his success and reputation affected your own game and what you’re doing on the field and off?
AE: My Dad is my role model, no question about it. He taught me everything I know about the game of soccer and also set a high standard for me to follow of what it means to be a man off the field as well. I'm not quite sure I will ever live up to his reputation, but it has definitely made me a better person to try.
STL: In 2005 you suffered a season-ending concussion. That must have been pretty scary for you. Did you ever think that this may be the end of your soccer career?
AE: Yea it was the scariest time of my life. Having migraines every day for 10 months was no joke. There was definitely a few months there where I was depressed, ignoring all my friends and family, eating 1 meal a day, and wondering what I was going to do with my life if I couldn't play soccer anymore. In the end, I learned a lot about myself and became a stronger person. Sometimes we get caught up in wondering why such tragic things would happen to us and we feel sorry for ourselves. But I tried to put a positive spin on it and figured maybe it was something that needed to happen to me to make me a better person in the future.
STL: When you’re not playing soccer, what other sports do you play?
AE: I play all sports. Out here in LA, beach volleyball is the sport of choice. But I love playing basketball, football, tennis, ping pong, etc. etc. Pretty much anything where you can keep score and there is a winner and a loser, I will play it and bet on myself to win.
STL: What has been your favorite memory in the MLS, or on the U.S. National Team?
AE: The best memory of course will be the 2004 MLS championship season we had with D.C. United. That whole year was a blast and to cap it off by being the MVP of the championship game was just a cherry on top. And my most memorable individual moment is probably scoring a goal vs. Real Madrid. in front of 72,000 in Seattle as we tied them 1-1. They were without a doubt the best team in the world at that time, and to score against them was a dream come true.