Homenetmen USA Eastern Soccer Team Sets Sights on Gold

The 9th Pan Homenetmen Games will be held in Yerevan this year, with a packed agenda of activities scheduled to begin on July 27 and run until Aug. 3. The Games were held in Armenia once before, in 2009. More than an estimated 600 athletes are expected to attend this year, with their coaches and friends easily doubling the number of visitors from abroad.

The USA Eastern Homenetmen soccer team
The USA Eastern Homenetmen soccer team

The festivities will commence with the opening ceremonies, which will feature a parade through the streets of Yerevan comprised of representatives from each chapter, as well as regional and national representatives. A torch relay will also be held as a symbolic way to start the proceedings. Following a week’s worth of events, the Games will conclude with the Victory Gala Ball on Aug. 3, where athletes and distinguished guests will be able to celebrate together, and say their goodbyes.

Many disciplines of sport will be showcased at the event, including Basketball, Junior Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis, Swimming, Track & Field, Table Tennis, Chess and Soccer. Along with this myriad of sporting events, the athletes and delegates will have a full itinerary of activities planned to truly feel and explore their Armenian heritage and identity. Educational programs on all things Armenian and field trips to locations of historic significance—such as the Armenian Genocide Museum at Dzidzernagapert and the Yeraplour Cemetery, and the site of the Artsakh War martyrs’ burial grounds—will all serve as ingredients for a memorable experience for the participants.

Below is a profile of the Homenetmen USA Eastern soccer team, covering everything from their results in 2009 to their current preparations and expectations for the upcoming tournament.

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At the 8th Pan Homenetmen Games in 2009, the USA Eastern team, led by talismanic Captain Vrej Melkonian, had a strong group phase, winning two of their three matches to advance to the knock-out stages. The team just missed out on a final berth, losing by a solitary goal in the semi-final to the eventual champions USA West, before ultimately falling to Lebanon in the third place match.

Coach Razmik Banosian
Coach Razmik Banosian

Melkonian will not be making the trip this time around, but has high hopes for the current crop of players. “We played well in ‘09 and had good players in that squad, but I feel this year’s team is better,” he said recently, in between shouting tactical tips to the younger players from the sideline as the USA Eastern team competed in a challenge match against local Boston side Medway FC of the MSSL at Victory Field in Watertown, Mass. The result from that game was a comfortable 6-2 win, with the best of the goals coming from Shahe Tenkerian, as he dispatched a clinical finish off of his left boot into the corner from just inside the box.

Coach Razmik Banosian also exuded a quiet confidence about his young charges, comfortable that his preparations were going as planned, especially with a few set plays up his sleeve. When pressed for what he expects from his team, he didn’t pull any punches: “The team looks good. We are better. This time we are going for the gold,” he said. Lofty ambitions for a team that will once again lock horns with perennial powerhouses from Lebanon, France, and USA West—chapters that select from a deeper pool of players. But hearing Coach Banosian’s confidence in his squad of 18 players means that they will, at the very least, be able to compete with the best of them.

The USA Eastern team, although young, is not lacking in experience. Coach Banosian has a very talented “old head” in the middle of the park in Mike Cimen. With a glowing college career at UMass behind him and previous experience at the Games, Cimen’s excellent ability on the ball and his eye for a goal from distance should help the side gel, helping to link play and spring the younger, faster players on the flanks with his terrific vision.

Other members of the squad may be young in age, but they have a proven track record. Andrew Ohanesian from the Detroit Chapter, and playing out of Seattle, Wash., is one such player. The commanding center-back was a key player in 2009 at the age of 17, and with 4 more years of experience under his belt he has developed into a solid defender who reads the game well and can pick a pass out of the defense. Picking up a slight ankle injury versus Medway will hopefully not slow Ohanesian down.

The average age of the 18-man squad is a mere 23, but there is a healthy confidence, an almost swagger, about the players that belies their youth. This was epitomized by Anto Avedissian’s comments as he entered the challenge match to cover for the injured Ohanesian: “Don’t worry Coach, I got this!” he exclaimed as he entered the field, his appetite for the game and the ball immediately evident. As another young veteran of the 2009 Games, this confidence and energy will certainly add to the dynamic of the team.

Goalkeeper Sako Najarian
Goalkeeper Sako Najarian

Coach Banosian will be taking two goalkeepers to the tournament, Sako Najarian of Boston and Kapo Apkarian of Washington, D.C. Both players will look to get some final action in before the trip, when the team travels to D.C. over 4th of July weekend for a tournament between the Eastern Region chapters of Homenetmen. Apkarian will look to impress in front of his hometown crowd, while Najarian will look to continue his shutout form from last year’s event.

Najarian, 30, is making his first trip to the Games. He is very active on the soccer scene in Boston, as was his father Koko before him. Najarian keeps net for the Homenetmen Armenian club team in the Mass State Soccer League of the Greater Boston area. Although short in stature by goalkeeping standards, Najarian more than makes up for that with his cat-like agility and sharp reflexes between the sticks, and has been known to stop a penalty kick or two in his day.

Najarian seemed excited by the possibilities for the team in Armenia, setting his sights on a final appearance at this year’s Games. “We hope to play to our potential and at least make the final, but we are expecting other teams to also be strong. Outside of the games, we have a full itinerary of activities planned as well. I definitely want to visit the Eternal Flame at the Armenian Genocide Museum.”

With a healthy mix of youth and experience, the USA Eastern team will travel to Armenia in a confident mood, but the challenge will be stern. If the team can manage to maintain focus on the field, play to their potential, and deal with the hot conditions expected in Yerevan, there is a chance it will go one better than the Games in 2009. They could go all the way. Underdogs or not, isn’t that why they play?

The USA Eastern chapter will consist of approximately 60 athletes and coaches across all sporting disciplines. The cost of sending each athlete to Armenia runs into the thousands of dollars. While athletes are required to contribute to this expense, the majority of the financing is being covered by the Homenetmen organization and their various fundraising efforts. The Boston Homenetmen chapter is running a raffle to help the athletes. Cash prizes of $2,500, $1,500, and $1000 are up for grabs for a tax-deductible donation of $10. The drawing takes place on July 19. For more details on how to contribute, contact the Homenetmen Eastern Regional Executive by e-mailing [email protected], calling (617) 926-6380, or writing to 80 Bigelow Avenue, Watertown, Massachusetts 02472.

 

2013 Squad

 

COACH

Razmik Banosian

 

GOALKEEPERS

Kapo Apkarian, Washington, D.C.

Sako Najarian, Boston

 

DEFENDERS

Harout Doukmajian, Washington, D.C.

Andrew Ohanesian, Detroit

Antranig Avedissian, Boston

Shant Demirjian, Detroit

Arin Teymouri, Washington, D.C.

Kevork Ourfalian, Boston

Daniel Sahakian, Washington, D.C.

 

MIDFIELDERS

John Bejakian, Boston

Mike Cimen, Boston

Vatche Demirjian, Boston

Mark Ishkhan, Chicago

Arameh Teymouri, Washington, D.C.

Asadour Tufekci, Washington, D.C.

 

STRIKERS

Shant Kendirjian, Detroit

Garen Torossian, Detroit

Shahe Tenkerian, Washington

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M.J. Graham

Michael Graham is The Armenian Weekly's soccer correspondent. Born and raised in Limerick, Ireland, Graham graduated from the University of Limerick with a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering. Passionate about soccer, Graham plays in and manages local adult soccer leagues in Massachusetts and is a holder of a U.S. Adult Amateur coaching license. Follow him on Twitter (@mjlgraham).

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