Player to Watch: American Eskandarian makes papa proud

Player to Watch: American Eskandarian makes papa proud
25 January 2005

With only one cap to his name, steadily improving striker Alecko
Eskandarian is primed for a big future with the U.S. national team. The
23 year-old D.C. United man may not be the biggest or the fastest,
but his understanding, eye for goal and undeniable pedigree have him
in frame for a fine run on the international stage.

After three years at the University of Virginia – a side brought to
prominence by current national team boss Bruce Arena – Eskandarian went
into Major League Soccer as the U.S.’ top collegiate player in 2003.

After coming into the league highly touted, he scored only three
goals for D.C. United in an unremarkable start to his professional
career. The squat forward looked sadly out of his depth. But willing
to pay his dues, the remarkably down-to-earth Alecko learned his
lessons well and 2004 proved another story altogether as he brought
the capital club back to greatness with a championship run.

In the run-up to the 2004 campaign, 14-year-old wunderkind and league
record-signing Freddy Adu was grabbing all the headlines. But it was
his teammate, Eskandarian, who got the job done for United once the
ball got rolling. The player capped off his fine run of form with
two goals in the MLS championship match against Kansas City.

D.C. United coach, former Poland captain and one of the finest-ever
MLS players, Peter Nowak, was amazed with the vast improvements on
display in Alecko’s sophomore season.

“Now when I ask him ‘how many goals will you score today?’ he has more
confidence and asks ‘how many do you want?'” the coach commented. Twice
Eskandarian was named player of the week and became the first D.C.
United player to score more than ten goals in a season since 2001. He
finished the year as the team’s top scorer, helping them to earn a
spot in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

“It’s pretty sweet to go to everybody that was doubting me and just
show them the trophy (MLS Cup) and just be like, ‘Shut up. I did it,'”
Eskandarian said of his triumphant 2004.

Family ties, football ties

The Eskandarian saga is a compelling and peculiarly ‘American’ tale,
screaming of long, arduous journeys and the intermingling of cultures.

Originally of Armenian origins, the Eskandarian clan was forced
to flee Europe for Iran to escape the horror of early 20th century
genocide. Alecko’s father Andarik went on to make his name playing
football in the mid-east. The hard-nosed, no nonsense defender lined
up for Iran at the 1978 FIFA World Cup Argentina, and his performances
were so impressive he was named to a Cup all-star team. And after
playing an exhibition match at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, USA,
his ample talents were noticed by the then managers of the New York
Cosmos. Almost at once, the player relocated to the East Coast of
the U.S. where he lined up alongside such icons as Pele and Franz
Beckenbauer for the legendary Cosmos of the North American Soccer
League (NASL) – the ill-fated precursor to MLS.

Andarik’s son Alecko was born in the ethnic hotbed of Montvale,
New Jersey in July of 1982 and almost at once showed an aptitude
for football. His father – who now owns a sporting goods store –
did all he could to nurture that talent.

“I have been playing soccer ever since I can remember,” Alecko recalls
fondly. “And my first soccer memory is kicking the ball around with
my brother and my dad in our backyard and going nuts when I scored
a goal.”

It did not take long for the stocky poacher to climb the ladder of
the American game, scoring goals with a predatory instinct. What he
lacked in size and speed, he more than made up for with creativity
and an uncanny nose for goal.

He was only 16 when the powers that be in U.S. Soccer noticed the
clever, cocksure Alecko. In 1999 he was called in to play with the
under-17 national team, went on to play four games with the under-20s
at the FIFA World Youth Championship in Argentina in 2001, and led
the U-23 (Olympic) side in scoring in 2002.

It was only a matter of time before he got his chance with the big
boys in the senior squad. And it came on 26 May 2003, when he came
off the bench in a friendly against Wales.

Though he failed to score, it is surely just the beginning for the
young striker. With Bruce Arena alerted to Eskandarian’s substantial
ability, he has been called into the training camp for the final
six-team ‘Hexagonal’ of North, Central American and Caribbean Zone
FIFA World Cup qualifying.

The U.S. will take on Trinidad & Tobago on 9 February in their first
match of the final round.

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS