Alecko Eskandarian has earned a name for himself in soccer stadiums across the nation. Now, the New Jersey native is back in New York, as an assistant coach for the Cosmos, who won their second North American Soccer League title this month.
As a pro, the 33-year-old played for D.C United, Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA and the Los Angeles Galaxy, all of Major League Soccer, the U.S.’s top pro soccer league. His resume also includes stints on the U.S. national and Olympic qualifying teams. Although he was forced to retire at 27 due to post-concussion syndrome, he did not let that prevent him from pursuing the sport he said had special meaning for him since childhood, and now uses his experience on the other side of the field.
When asked what the key to be being a good coach is, he said, “There are no set guidelines. ... But I think, at the very least, you have to see the big picture. ... You will always deal with different types of adversity, whether it’s in the game or through the course of the season. So you always have to be one step ahead and try to plan for it and not be taken by surprise.”
How did you get started in soccer?I was kind of born in soccer. My dad was a professional soccer player and I have an older brother who also played soccer. But I very much found my own identity and my own passion through soccer. I played a different position than my brother and my dad, so I was kind of off doing my own thing and became very passionate about it at a very young age. I can’t really explain why. I played all sports growing up, so it wasn’t like it was just soccer, but soccer was definitely almost like an escape for me. I got in some trouble when I was a kid and always had a little bit of a temper, so soccer was my escape from reality. I could just play on my own in the backyard. It was almost like therapy for me.
You went to college at UVA. What was your experience like there and how did you choose that school?I love UVA. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Coming out of Jersey, I was recruited by a bunch of different schools, mostly in the tri-state area. But I really wanted to test myself against the best and go to an institution that would really challenge me on and off the field, through soccer and academics. And Virginia really offered me the best balance of both. We had the number one team in the country in soccer, and academically, it’s the top state school in the country. So I really found everything that I wanted at UVA and had a great experience there.
You had to retire from soccer due to injuries. Do you still get to play for fun?For a long time, I couldn’t. For the last five years or so, I really couldn’t do anything. Slowly but surely, I’ve been able to get back into it just through coaching. Nowadays I can play, but not seriously. I can’t do anything competitively. I try to kick it around and stay involved in the game and have fun.
When the Cosmos won this year, what went through your head? Did you get really stressed out during the game?I’ll be honest with you, this last championship game, I was as calm as I have ever been. We put so much work and preparation in that I was very, very calm. I expected us to come away with the victory, knowing that it would be a very tough game against a tough opponent. But I was very content with the work that we had put in leading up to it, so I was actually really calm and relaxed the days leading up to the game and felt very good about our chances.
When you Google your name, your date with fellow Armenian-American Kim Kardashian comes up. What was that like and do you people always ask you about it?Yeah, I guess it comes up every now and then. I’m really quiet about it. I never really talk about it. It was a really cool experience. I have nothing but great things to say about it all. But, at the same time, I think that’s just a small part of who I am and what defines me. It was a great opportunity that came up, I guess, through my professional soccer career. Kim was really cool and it was a really fun date that we went on.
You live in the West Village. What are your favorite places there?I have a bunch of places that I love around here. For lunch, I love the Original Sandwich Shoppe; it’s called T.O.S.S. That’s my go-to for turkey sandwiches. I go to Westville a lot, The Meatball Shop. There’s a bunch of good Mexican and Italian restaurants that I go to as well, like Diablo Royale, Piccolo Angolo.
What are some memorable moments in your career?Wow, I’ve had a bunch. Obviously, winning a championship is always huge. I was fortunate enough to play against Real Madrid, which is one of the top teams in the world, and to score a goal against them. We tied them 1-1. That was pretty cool in front of, I think, 70,000 people. I had a chance to represent the United States of America both in the Olympic qualifying and with the full national team, so that was a dream come true. I’ve just made a lot of memories, a lot of friendships, and had a lot of exciting moments that I’ll hold onto for the rest of my life.
What are your future plans? Do you think you’ll stay in New York?To keep progressing within my field. In soccer, now being on the other side of things, whether it be coaching or front office, I just want to always push myself and get better and improve and challenge myself. So that’s my plan professionally. But, being in the city, you also are exposed to a lot of different things and meet a lot of different people as well, so I just want to take advantage of all the opportunities that are in front of me. New York would definitely be a preference of mine. I also lived in LA before this and I loved it there as well. In professional sports, you never know where your career is going to take you, but I’m very content with being here in New York. Being near my family has meant a lot to me, so I’m really enjoying it here.