His parents were so proud on that spring day in 1983.
Nine-month-old Alecko Eskandarian was crawling around their
family room in Washington Township, N.J., when he suddenly stood
up for the first time. His father, Andranik, quickly knelt in
front of his boy, imploring Alecko to walk to him. But Alecko had
other plans--he booted a Nerf soccer ball with all his might. "Our
kid is crazy," Andranik said to his wife, Anahid.
Fast-forward seven years: Alecko and Andranik, who emigrated from
Iran in 1978 and was a standout defender for the New York Cosmos
from '78 through '85, are in their backyard. Andranik sets up a
soccer goal and spends the afternoon teaching his son to play the
sport. Finally, Andranik calls it quits and retreats inside. Some
three hours later Andranik spies Alecko alone in the darkness,
running around, pumping his fists and uncorking one shot after
another toward the net. "That's when I knew he had a chance to be
special," says Andranik. "He lives for soccer."
Indeed, Alecko's passion is one of the reasons he has developed
into a top collegiate player and a potential U.S. national team
member. Through Sunday, Eskandarian, a 20-year-old junior forward
at Virginia, was second in the NCAA in goals (20) and in points
(44). Though the 10-5 Cavaliers have struggled by their high
standards this season (they were 17-2-1 last year and advanced to
the second round of the NCAA tournament), Eskandarian was on pace
to break the school's single-season goals record (23), set by
A.J. Wood in 1994.
Eskandarian is only 5'9" and 160 pounds, but he is smart and has
great field vision. "Soccer is much more mental than it is
physical," says Alecko, whose older brother, Ara, played at
Villanova. "Ninety percent of the game is anticipation. I try to
read everything that's happening and then put myself in a good
November 4, 2002
Another reason Eskandarian excels is his booming shot. (When he
was 16 months old he drove a ball through a window in his home.)
While at New Jersey's Bergen Catholic High, Eskandarian relied on
that explosive left foot to score 154 career goals, the second
most in New Jersey high school history. Along the way he
encountered opponents who tried every dirty trick in the book to
stop him. Eskandarian had his nose broken three times during hard
tackles or off-the-ball cheap shots. The abuse has continued at
Virginia, where he has had his nose fractured two more times.
Nearly every game he is aggressively marked by the opposing
team's best and often biggest defender.
"This level is frustrating for Alecko because he's so advanced
that he tries to do it all himself," says Cavaliers coach George
Gelnovatch. "He's technically gifted and he strikes the ball much
better than most, so he has the potential to be a national team
player. But it's not a sure thing. He's got to keep improving."
Eskandarian is leaning toward leaving school after this season to
play either overseas or in MLS. (He's fielded inquiries for his
services from both.) He has already secured a spot in the 25-man
pool for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, but his ultimate goal is to
reach the World Cup. For years he has heard his father tell
stories about playing in the 1978 Cup for Iran and marking
world-class strikers such as Scotland's Joe Jordan. Since then
Alecko has wanted to follow Andranik's footsteps onto soccer's
biggest stage. "That's always been my dream," Alecko says. "I
have a way to go, but it's something that I'm striving for."
Here are the points-per-game leaders in Division I through
PLAYER, SCHOOL GAMES GOALS ASSISTS POINTS
POINTS PER GAME
1. Joseph Ngwenya, Coastal Carolina 15 21 8 50
2. Alecko Eskandarian, Virginia 14 20 4 44
3. Antou Jallow, Wisconsin-Milwaukee 14 18 5 41
4. Dimelon Westfield, Massachusetts 14 17 3 37
5. Chris Goos, UNC Greensboro 16 15 11 41