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Soccer, the military, and an Israeli soccer player’s transition to Hawk Hill

Though older and with a variety of different experiences compared to many of his St. Joseph's soccer teammates, midfielder Omry Perel has found they are all guided by a common goal.

Omry Perel, midfielder for St. Joseph's University.
Omry Perel, midfielder for St. Joseph's University.Read moreGreg Carroccio

Putting on a uniform for sport or for a military purpose may seem as different as work or play, but for those who are serious about how they impact others, commonalities abound.

Such is the case of graduate student and midfielder Omry Perel. He came to St. Joseph’s from Ramat Gan, Israel, to join the men’s soccer team in the spring of 2021 with two goals in mind: pursuing a higher education and bringing the resilient attitude he’d learned from soldiering to the team.

“Pursuing these academic goals were never acknowledged in my family because I’m the first person to have earned a higher degree, or to have even recognized its importance,” Perel said. “I’m motivated to influence the younger athletes in my country to achieve success, not only in sport but also academically.”

The transition period for any international student is always a challenge, often with a language barrier and an adjustment period to a different time zone and culture. One of Perel’s main reasons for deciding to be a Hawk was the school’s smaller size.

“It allowed me to build strong relationships with those around me and I’m extremely driven to continue to work hard, both academically and for my team,” Perel said. “I truly feel fortunate to have a coaching staff that believes in me and helps me to feel comfortable even when I’m such a long way from my home and family.”

Being an international student isn’t the only difference between Perel and his teammates, however. He will also turn 28 in February, making him the oldest on the team. With Perel a millennial and his other teammates in Gen Z, it might seem like a challenge to bond, but that wasn’t the case.

“I found that when you share the same targets, you can find common values such as togetherness, regardless of age differences,” Perel said. “Once we step on the field, the age of the player loses importance. Instead, players will respect me by my example and the consistency of my behavior.”

Perel’s story in Israel is far different from that of the normal student-athlete at St. Joseph’s. Not only did he train and play for his team in Israel (Maccabi Tel Aviv) as a youth member, but he also served in the Israeli army, which is a requirement for all citizens over the age of 18. Perel remembers that his first couple of months in training were focused on learning how to polish his boots, maintaining a short haircut, and shaving every day.

“The army’s apparent obsession with appearance is something that confuses outsiders, but it’s not as silly as it sometimes seems,” Perel said. “By having a short, sharp, no-nonsense hairstyle, you are transmitting a character that corresponds with this form of appearance.”

His time in the military trained him to push through physical and mental fatigue.

“Knowing that you have that capacity somewhere inside you not only gives you confidence in whatever it is you’re doing, it’s the difference between success and failure and, [and] for soldiers, often life and death,” Perel said. “Dig deeper into your reserves, and you’ll be surprised what you have in there.”

Entering the military at 18, Perel was placed into a situation where he had to mature quicker than most.

“I have the strength to face hard and challenging moments in all sorts of life situations,” Perel said. “Military service has contributed significantly to me in strengthening my character and the right vision to face challenges I have in life as to every person in this world.”

Sports and the military might seem dissimilar on the surface, but they share commonalities, such as wearing a uniform, working within a team of all types of people, and using strategies to outwit the opponent. Perel likens soccer to a battlefield.

“No matter how you look at it, both in battle and on the field, it is almost impossible to succeed single-handedly,” Perel said. “The most important thing is teamwork and formation. The better you and your friends work together, the goal will be achieved in the best possible way.”

Perel’s lessons from the military haven’t been limited to his development as an individual.

“Omry brings excellent leadership on and off the field, he brings a high level of professionalism and sets high standards during the training sessions, and he was our most consistent and impactful attacking player this past season,” coach Don D’Ambra said. “He has created many offensive scoring chances with his passing and crossing abilities as well as also being capable of scoring goals. His awareness and ability to create in the attack has been a huge benefit to our team.”

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Mental fortitude, leadership, professionalism, and productive ability made Perel a strong and dependable teammate for St. Joe’s. He scored three goals and had six assists as the Hawks went 8-9-2 this season.

However, his one area of weakness? Miniature golf.

“A favorite moment off the field was at a team-building day,” D’Ambra said. “We took the team miniature golfing and it was very funny to see how bad Omry was at mini golf, [but] the entire team had fun cheering him on.”

Perel still has another year of eligibility remaining at St. Joe’s. Even after his graduation, he intends to stick around.

“Realistically, I would like to remain in college soccer for the foreseeable future. I can see myself taking on the role of a graduate assistant,” Perel said. “I think my vast experience can be utilized in college soccer because I give a lot of different perspectives, and I want to return the favor that the coaching staff at St. Joseph’s has given me.”