New League of Nations Brings Home World Cup Fever

On the heels of the FIFA World Cup, a tournament with a similar international flair, but at a local level, is bringing together soccer-loving players from around State College to create a champion that gets bragging rights and a gold trophy.

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

The league’s members, wearing the national team jerseys of Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Italy, begin competition on January 8 in a group stage with each team playing each other twice at the Nittany Valley Sports Center. The group will determine seeding for the semi-final matchups in February and the championship will take place on February 26. The winners will pass around the gold trophy between themselves until the next tournament in 2024.

The League of Nations was organized by State College resident Daniel Haverkos, who found a way to harness the excitement for the World Cup at the local level by creating an internationally themed event. Some of the tournament players come from countries including Colombia, Guatemala, United Kingdom, Russia, Afghanistan and more.

“My hope and vision for the League of Nations is to bring together the best players in state colleges to compete at the highest level and show respect for all,” said Haverkos, who was a goalkeeper at the University of Richmond in the late 1990s and for Nail Cycle Kick in the adult league. is known. “The way the players, coaches and refs, sponsors, media and friends, family and fans have rallied to cheer on this inaugural season has so far exceeded all expectations.

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“It’s been amazing to see that beautiful game embraced so wholeheartedly in a place where football is typically defined by one of the best pigskin college programs in the nation.”

Captains draft players at the end of 2022, and teams are playing seven on seven with plenty of time for subs. No slide tackling is allowed to keep it clean, fun and respectful.

League organizer Daniel Haverkos (photo by Tim Waite)

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

He continued to play with friends in his hometown and recreationally since he moved to the United States in 2005. He is excited to play with other soccer-loving athletes who come from around the world and find themselves at a state college like him. . He expects to be a defender.

“It brings people together for soccer,” says Prabaugh, who co-owns The Cove Pizzeria in College Township.

Penn State graduate student Jacob Rieker plays as a goalkeeper for the Argentina team. He grew up playing soccer, but a concussion during a high school game ended his competitive career. He was clearing the ball when the 220-pound striker kicked him in the head. He went to the hospital and doesn’t remember the incident (though he takes some solace in his team winning the game in his absence).

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Nowadays, he is a doctoral candidate who is one and a half years into defending his dissertation in applied linguistics. Playing in a fun league and preparing for this event is a welcome respite from his studies. He is one of the few who only plays as a keeper. He was also the recipient of the Golden Glove in the Center Soccer Association, an honor that goes to the best goalkeeper.

“This is my salvation,” he says.

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

On the pitch, he plays center back for defence.

“It’s fun, it’s friendly. I love it, and it’s so much better than sitting on the couch,” Grabe says.

The Anna Belpadio team is also in Italy. She says the local recreation league has become her social group and a major way she stays active now that she’s moved away from playing collegiate soccer at NCAA Division II Winona State in Minnesota.

She says she has retired from playing goalkeeper – she wants to avoid diving and hitting the ground – and expects to play as a center midfield or forward attacker. He is eager to participate in the first edition of the tournament.

“I try to put it into perspective, just lift up my teammates and be the best I can be as a team player,” she says.

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Otis Lyons, a junior journalism major at Penn State, is one of the youngest players in the adult league. He played varsity soccer in high school in Bay Area, California but dropped out to attend Penn State.

A diehard soccer fan, he says he watches it religiously on TV and follows leagues around the world. “My Tuesdays and Wednesdays are consumed with soccer.”

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

After a hiatus from the game between high school and his first years at Penn State, Lyons is excited to get back on the field. He is a central attacking midfielder—a position that creates or scores goals through assists—or an attacker.

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

He says soccer brings him peace, and he’s been playing all his life, from his childhood in Russia to his time at Penn State. In Russia, he was a dancer before getting into soccer, and he also played table tennis, beach volleyball, and badminton, and participated in swimming and track and field. It will be ready when the league starts in January.

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

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


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