MLS star returns for degree
2002 Hermann Trophy winner takes classes with teammates, teaches life lessons as assistant
In July 2009, Alecko Eskandarian was traded to the Los Angeles Galaxy and scored two goals during his first three appearances. He started alongside World Cup participant Landon Donovan, could walk to the beach and went on a date with Kim Kardashian in an episode of her reality show.
Now, keeping up with Eskandarian is a bit easier. He's taking anthropology classes with junior defender Greg Monaco while working as an unpaid assistant coach for the Virginia men's soccer team.
"It's culture shock, for sure," the former Cavalier standout said.
Eskandarian was sidelined from the MLS after a ball struck him in the face during a Galaxy friendly against AC Milan July 19, 2009. The blow left him with a broken nose and his second concussion. He was sidelined for the rest of the season.
Eskandarian worked to recover in time for the spring start to the new MLS season, but doctors told the forward the recovery process was even longer than expected. He realized he would not be able to take part in the 2010 season.
"The toughest thing about my injury is that there's no time frame," Eskandarian said.
Because he is neither an active player nor retired, Eskandarian had an opportunity to fulfill a promise he made to his parents. He decided he would return to Virginia to earn his undergraduate degree.
Eskandarian played three seasons at Virginia before leaving after his junior year when he was selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft. As a Cavalier, he was a three-time All-American and the 2002 recipient of the Hermann Trophy, which is given to college soccer's most outstanding player. He also achieved success during his seven-year career in the MLS, winning the 2004 MLS Cup with D.C. United in which he was named the Cup MVP. Eskandarian was a two-time All Star, as well.
These days, he's thriving as a full-time student at the University.
"I love it; it's been great," Eskandarian said. "It's puzzling to me why I ever even got frustrated or struggled with classes [prior to leaving Virginia]."
Eskandarian admitted he did not leave the University on an academic high note. "That's something I've really, really regretted, and that's something that I've tried to pass on to these guys [on the team now]."
His relationship with the players revolves around passing on this sort of wisdom. He refers to himself as a conduit between the coaches and the players.
"You can definitely talk to him about things that you couldn't talk to an assistant coach or [head coach] George [Gelnovatch] about," Greg Monaco said. "It's like a happy medium."
At the same time, Eskandarian also serves as a grim reminder of how fragile an athlete's career can be, Gelnovatch said.
"I think what Esky and a bunch of these guys have come to realize is that your education is something nobody can take away from you," Gelnovatch said.
Like many undergraduate students, Eskandarian is not sure what he wants to do next, but the 28-year-old said he isn't taking his time here for granted. Still, he emphasized he is not retired - he's just not medically cleared to play.
"I still feel like I have soccer left in me," he said.
That said, Eskandarian noted he does not have total control of his future career options. He cannot say for sure whether the symptoms of his concussions have improved because they only manifest themselves during periods of strenuous physical activity.
For the time being, Eskandarian is a coach on a team that will be a favorite to go deep into the ACC and NCAA tournaments. If that doesn't occupy all of his time, he can still watch the reruns of his blind date with Kardashian on "E"