Ukrainian soccer player finds home at University

Jamar Dunson and Jamar Dunson

Moving to a new place, regardless of where, is life-changing.

Adjusting to one’s surroundings and learning the ins and outs of the place can be difficult. However, when those two places have something in common, it makes the adjusting much easier.

For Ukraine native Vlad Lekarev, a senior majoring in Management, the common factor was soccer.

Although he moved to the U.S. at a young age, soccer bridged the gap between the United States and the Ukraine. He goes back to his homeland from time to time to see his family and goes to BG to play soccer and further his education.

He recently went back home last summer to play for European teams such as Dynamo Kiev FC and Vllaznia FC.

Playing for those teams, specifically Dynamo Kiev, gave him new experiences in learning the difference between American and European soccer. Lekarev said it made him a better player and even got him named as one of the top players in America at that point.

“I took the knowledge that I got from there and brought it back to the States and it really help me grow as a player,” Lekarev said. “I performed really well and I got to the U18 National team level.”

During his time playing for both teams, Lekarev also did something that many athletes dream of doing: meeting and training with their idol. Lekarev played with Sergiy Rebrov, who is a well-known Ukrainian footballer who played for the Ukrainian National team and Tottenham Hotspur FC.

“He’s a Ukrainian legend . . . he was just a different class,” Lekarev said. “I was picking up so many tips and tricks that I could bring back here and incorporate it with my skill.”

Eric Nichols, head coach for the men’s soccer team, also believes that playing soccer in Europe has elevated Lekarev’s skill and ability.

“He has a particular passion for the game of soccer and I think that comes from the background of his homeland in Ukraine,” Nichols said. “Coming from a European family, soccer is in his blood and I think he’s known that for a long time.”

In his time coaching Lekarev, Nichols noticed the maturity in Lekarev’s mannerisms towards the team and how professional his approach is to the game.

“I couldn’t be happier of his progress in his three seasons here,” Nichols said. “He’s gone from being a good part of the team to an extremely significant part of the team.”

Outside the sport of soccer, Lekarev, according to fellow teammate and friend Jon Kumher, is a great guy who’s positive, energetic and always wanting to do better.

As for the soccer field, Kumher says their mutual love for soccer and honesty for each other is what keeps their bond so strong.

Although being on the U18 National Team was a great moment for him, defeating the Dayton Dutch Lions last spring was an even more memorable event for Lekarev. Despite the Dutch Lions being a professional team with experienced players, Lekarev scored four goals on them and led the Falcons to a four to two win.

For Lekarev, simply getting the chance to test his skill against veterans and players who have been in soccer their whole lives made it a special moment.

“It was great to play a professional soccer team and it was just a good moment all around for my team as well,” Lekarev said.

The chance to play for a Major League Soccer team is one of the reasons he came to America and chose to play for the Falcons.

“I want to go pro and get noticed by the MLS . . . I still think I can achieve that here,” Lekarev said. “I’m going to give everything I have, because I want to win the Mid-American Conference Championship and I want to go pro.”