When the United States Olympic Men’s Soccer Team needed a place to practice during its Nashville stay for Olympic Qualifying, the Lipscomb Soccer Complex was used. When the team needed players to practice against, Lipscomb soccer was also of service.
Senior Ethan Summers, freshman Omar Djabi and freshman Zander El-Hindi practiced against the National team last week in the run-up to the United States’ matches at LP Field. The trio participated in drills and scrimmages with the under-23 squad, taking in a handful of practices with some of the best players in the world.
Djabi, an Atlantic Sun All-Freshman selection in 2011, and El-Hindi joined the team for multiple practices, while Summers was able to make only one due to class requirements.
The practices were intense. In addition to drills against some of the best players in the world, the Lipscomb athletes competed in full-contact scrimmages with the National Team.
All three expressed astonishment at how fast the National Team played.
“The ball moves really fast,” said Djabi, a Franklin native. “Once you step on the field with them, you get in a rhythm and you can keep playing with them.”
“It was a great experience just to be on the field with them. We showed we can play with them, and that if we play like that we can advance to the next level.”
Summers was impressed not only by the speed but the intellect displayed by the under-23 squad.
“One thing you notice from level to level is the elevated pace,” Summers said. “Those guys know what they’re doing two or three passes ahead at all times. Combined with their skill and just how fast the ball is moving, it’s amazing to watch.”
Summers, a native of Ogden, Utah had trained with Real Salt Lake of the MLS in the past but was struck by the talent on the National Team.
“Training with an MLS team helped me, but this was still a humbling experience,” Summers said. “A lot of those guys are All-Stars or great players in Europe.”
The learning experience was great for Djabi and El-Hindi. As freshmen with aspirations of playing professionally after college, training with the National Team was invaluable.
“Their touch is so perfect,” said El-Hindi, a native of Fayetteville, N.Y. “They know where they’re going before they get the ball. It makes it feel like the game is so fast. Being on the field, you worry about keeping up.”
“It was one of the best experiences of my life, but definitely nerve-wracking. Those guys are the best of the best.”
Playing with the National Team was not only a big step in the future of each player, but a learning experience. Even in the limited time spent in training, each felt the knowledge they gained would be invaluable.
The Bison athletes have returned to the training field for Lipscomb, but will never forget the lessons learned those brief days they practiced with the National Team. Each expressed gratitude for the opportunity not only to take the field, but to study the techniques of the United States’ best soccer athletes.
“It was great to watch and learn from them,” El-Hindi said. “The coaches came and talked to us afterwards, and told us we were good players.”
Djabi concurred with his teammate.
“As a freshman, I can take a lot and learn,” Djabi said. “They have more experience than we do. It was great they chose us at Lipscomb so we could watch them and learn.”
As the elder statesman of the group, Summers saw the long-term benefits for the entire Lipscomb squad.
“Our guys took it as an opportunity to be fans as well as students,” Summers said. “For those of us that got to practice with them, we can bring back that experience to the team and show them how those guys go about their business.
“Overall, it was an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience. Just having them here and getting to watch was great; getting on the field was even better.”