Professional soccer player turns in cleats for college


OMN Sports

Audrey Anderson, Sports Contributor

For most athletes, it was an average work day: play the game, get the win, and impress the fans.

But to one, it was special.

Playing his first professional game, Andrew Real was ecstatic and determined to dazzle the watching fans.

The ringing of the whistle started the game, with players passing to one another and back-bending shots firing at the goals. 

Real faced down his components, denying their aggressive advances and skillfully plucking the ball out from the players’ feet, leaving them to sulk in embarrassment.

Then everything went black.

Laying on the field, clutching at his leg as sharp dagger-like pains possessed his body, Real, who had dedicated his whole life to soccer, could only think of one thing: What’s next?

Real began playing soccer recreationally in fourth grade while living in Japan. He was initially born in California but moved immediately to Japan as his dad had a mission for the navy, which kept him posted within the country. 

Soccer being one of the most popular sports in Japan, Real was introduced to the culture early on and wanted to join the lively and passionate scene. 

Real looked up to players such as Shinji Kagawa and Maya Yoshida, prominent Japanese soccer players known for their hard work and commitment. 

Real hoped to follow in the footsteps of his heroes and become a fantastic soccer player by having the grit and the determination needed to become one of the greats. 

“I had some family issues growing up, (which) was a huge factor making me want this career even more … I was so committed to being the best, and it was a way for me also to avoid the family issues I had,” Real said. 

During the fifth grade, Real realized that he had a passion for soccer and began to play more competitively, having caught the eye of multiple coaches. 

Fabio Dos Passo, currently coaching at FC Barcelona and who coached Real during his time at FC Gifu, described Real as “a hard-working individual who thrived for success,” and, “a responsible player that took the game seriously.”

Real’s big break came when he was signed to the Portland Timbers, playing as a center-back from July 2017 to September 2022. 

Many friendships were made while Real played for the Timbers, including a friendship with Davis Sargent, who played with Real on the same team in 2017-2018 and is now playing for FC Schalke 04.

“(We) had strong chemistry because he played center back with me,” Sargent said. “The best experience I have with Real is when he smoked our captain in a competitive drill he claimed to have never lost.”

As management for the Timbers began to become a rocky path with decisions, such as trading key players and welcoming Brian Fernadez, the unpredictable forward who, according to the Oregonian, struggled with substance abuse issues, Real decided to pack up and take his soccer journey elsewhere. 

Real signed with FC Gifu in the next chapter of his soccer journey. This Japanese soccer team plays within the J3 League, the third tier of Japanese professional soccer. 

Sacrificing his time and body, Real was finally allowed to play his first professional game, but disaster struck mid-game as he suffered a catastrophic injury. 

Tearing both his medial collateral ligament, meniscus, and dislocating his kneecap, Real’s professional career ended just as it had started. His career with FC Gifu only ran from December 2022 to January 2023. 

Passo was crushed when Real was injured. “I was very devastated for him,” Passo said. “I was under the impression that he was an amazing player and was becoming … a prodigy of Japan.”

Upon finding out that he could not be able to play soccer professionally, Real was faced with a challenging question: What will the future look like now?

“I did have a lot of things thrown at me when I did get injured. For example, the type of surgery I would like, what my future will look like, the club recommending me to a few jobs elsewhere and the club maybe thinking that I could stay there,” Real said. “That experience itself was very intimidating.” 

Faced with the end of his soccer career, Real was determined to push forward and start a new chapter of his life.

“Even though I have committed to soccer for most of my life, it is important as well that sometimes even when you have worked hard at something, it’s not always going to end up the way you want it to be,” Real said, reflecting on the change.

Real decided to start his new chapter by going to college, choosing Oregon State University as his home away from home. 

“I’ve got to move on, otherwise I will just stay stuck,” Real said concerning his decision to go to  college. 

He is currently a freshman majoring in computer science and hopes that once done with college, he can excel in his career much like he did with soccer. 

Real’s dad had heard of Oregon State’s reputation with engineering and urged his son to go, knowing his passion for computer science. Many friends also convinced Real to choose Oregon State, saying it was a great school and campus. 

Real now immerses himself in the college community and culture by joining intramural sports, meeting new friends within his major, and attending a few Asian-Pacific American Student Union events. 

Real said that soccer has taught him many important things, including hard work, determination, teamwork, and much more which he has now applied to his new life. 

“Going back to all of the things I’ve learned … I couldn’t have been more grateful for the person I am because of soccer,” Real said.

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