The 'scoring machine' moved to the United States four years ago.
The first thing Filip Svoboda noticed about the United States was the sheer magnitude of McDonald’s.
Near his birthplace of Teplice, Czech Republic, the 14-year-old had only one McDonald's to choose from.
Talk about the United States being the land of opportunity.
Four years ago, Svoboda, now a 10th grader at the Out-of-Door Academy, and his family moved to the United States from Teplice.
It was there he was first introduced to the sport of soccer by his grandfather Zdenek Svoboda. The elder Svoboda played the sport himself, but never had the chance to make it a career. He wanted his grandson to have that opportunity, so he taught him the game at age 3.
Svoboda said the biggest difference in the American and Czech versions of soccer is the pure talent. Americans are great overall athletes, Svoboda said, but they lack in skills specific to soccer. This allows Svoboda to use his own skills to decimate opponents despite a self-proclaimed lack of speed.
His most obvious skill is his physicality. Svoboda is not afraid to use his strength to knock opponents off the ball and make space when there seemingly is not enough.
“I don’t think opponents like me very much,” Svoboda said.
Svoboda said he has immense respect for people who play multiple sports. That is not something done very much in the Czech Republic, where kids either play soccer or hockey. Svoboda himself is breaking that trend, trying his foot as kicker for the Thunder football team.
His passion, though, remains the “beautiful game.” Over his four years at ODA, Svoboda has blossomed into a complete player and a varsity team captain of the soccer squad. The midfielder downplayed his scoring prowess, but he has recorded 23 of the Thunder’s 48 goals overall.
He’s a scoring machine, in the words of his coach, George Leicht, and despite his humble attitude toward his own production, Svoboda is an advocate for celebrating with passion in big moments.
“It’s nice to let your emotions go,” Svoboda said. “This is the time we get to be playing, this is the time to enjoy the game.”
Leicht said he knew immediately Svoboda would turn into a special player. Svoboda’s vision of the field and knowledge of the game are the best he has seen at ODA.
“Opposing coaches always think he’s a senior because of his skill,” Leicht said. “When they find out he’s so young, their jaws drop.”
Svoboda said he is willing to play in whatever role the team needs him, especially against St. Stephen’s.
The Eagles have had the Thunder’s number in recent years, and won both games the teams have played this season. In all other games as of Jan. 7, ODA has a solid 7-3-2 record, including taking home the trophy at the inaugural Keswick Cup tournament at Keswick Christian on Dec. 29. Svoboda was named MVP of the tournament.
Celebrating that tournament win, especially the semifinal against Seffner Christian which went to penalty kicks, is Svoboda’s favorite soccer memory to date.
It’s a nice one, but the shadow of St. Stephen’s still hangs over Svoboda’s head, and he said he thinks this Thunder team has a chance to topple the Eagles in the district tournament.
“We’re a young team,” Svoboda said. “We have physicality. We play differently than before. I think we can be a surprise. This is the best team I’ve been on at ODA.”