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Life As A Pro: Ryan Adeleye
Ryan Adeleye began his professional career straight out of the University of North Carolina, being recruited into Israel where he played five seasons with Be'er Sheva and Hapoel Ashkelon before returning to the United States to suit up for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. 

By Christopher McCollum


"I’d never been to Israel. I thought it would be interesting though, going to a new country for a month, experience a new culture, and since I’m Jewish it was nice to be in a place that is so important for us. And then soccer on top of that.”


Ryan Adeleye had a conventional route to the professional game for an American player, that turned unconventional as soon as doors began to open for him. Born in New Jersey, Adeleye grew up in the hot bed of modern American soccer development, before going off to university in North Carolina, starting at Davidson outside of Charlotte, and ending his final two years at the University of North Carolina, in the same graduating year of fellow tri-state stars Jonathan Borrajo, Mike Grella and Marcus Tracy.

In his final year with the Tar Heels, Adeleye was recruited by the coach of the American team that was entering Israel’s Maccabiah Games in 2009, utilizing his Jewish heritage to qualify for the team.

“One of the head coaches of the Maccabiah Games team contacted my coach at UNC at the time asking about me. I guess you could say I was recruited for that team,” Adeleye told SoccerViza, reflecting on the process.

“I know they had tryouts, but I wasn’t part of that process. They asked me and I had to fill out an application and go through the Maccabiah process of proving I was Jewish, that they require fore everyone who participates. He asked if I was interested, but I’d never been to Israel. I thought it would be interesting though, going to a new country for a month, experience a new culture, and since I’m Jewish it was nice to be in a place that is so important for us. And then soccer on top of that.”

Once in Israel, the American team had a warm-up friendly against Hapoel Be’er Sheva of the Israeli Premier League, one of the larger clubs in the country who made five trips to Europe from the mid-90s to mid-2000s. The friendly went well, especially for Adeleye, who was courted to join the team after the Maccabiah Games concluded. It was a no-brainer, having gone undrafted by MLS teams a few months prior and wanting to carve out a professional career.

It ended up working out well for Adeleye as he became a defensive mainstay at Be’er Sheva. He spent four years with them and did well, gaining publicity and building a reputation for himself. He capped off his Israeli journey on a one year deal with Hapoel Ashkelon in the second tier of Israeli football. It was a different experience in Israel from that of the American college game, and one that game with a lot of things to learn on and off the field.

“The first year was very difficult for a lot of reasons. Regardless of the fact that most people who have played professional sports have been doing so for most of their lives, there’s a certain element that changes once it becomes your job. It’s not like a club team, or a regional team or a select team like it was before. It’s totally different, it becomes business. So getting used to playing soccer as my profession and getting used to a new culture, country, and language… I had no family and very few friends there when I first arrived, so it was difficult. There were a lot of new things at once. And that’s just off the field. There were also a lot of adjustments on the field. There was a different pace to the game, players were more technical. It’s just a different game, a different style.”

“I had to leave Be’er Sheva a couple times. There were air sirens a few times and we had to take cover."

In addition to learning the professional side of the game, there were also the hazards of living in a place that presented a constant state of danger for those living there. Threats of terrorism are a regular part of life and are dealt with confidently by the Israeli populace, but it was yet another new thing to learn to deal with for Adeleye. Though it didn’t quite reach the point that it did for fellow American Bryan Gerzicich who was playing near the constant threat of the Lebanese border with Kiryat Shmona, it was still a very real, and very nerve-wracking part of life.

“I had to leave Be’er Sheva a couple times. There were air sirens a few times and we had to take cover. One time outside of my house it happened, and it was a weird experience. Every other time it happens usually you’re inside and under cover and you’re safe. But this one time I was caught outside. You don’t know when it’s going to happen of course, but as a soccer player you’re hardly ever outside. You’re either training or in the gym or at home. You don’t do too many crazy things outside, especially when you know that tensions are high. I was caught outside this one time though, with my girlfriend at the time, now my wife. She knew what to do, but I froze. She ran one way, I ran the other and I didn’t know what to do. I wouldn’t say there were a lot of times though where I was danger. There were just a couple times I felt a little uncomfortable but it wasn’t ever anything I was scared of. But you know, it’s about being conscious. I know that in Israel they’re very prepared for these situations. There’s things that we take for granted, that they make sure they’re checking. They’re not taking any chances, so I felt really safe there.”

Looking back after five years in Israel, Adeleye has a lot to reflect it. He met his wife there, he learned what it took to be a professional soccer player, and how to live his life accordingly. It wasn’t the glitz and glamor as is often portrayed, but a grinding effort to make things work.

“I would say it was… not to sound like it was a drag, but it was life changing in a lot of ways. I think it was a positive experience. I learned a lot about being a professional player, about managing your career, and about things I might not have learned as quickly had I been in the United States. I think Israel is a good place for someone starting out professionally. You have to learn a lot if you want to succeed; no one is going to give you anything there. You have to work really hard, but it’s possible. They like Americans there, they want us to succeed.”

"Regardless of what’s going on in your life, once you step over that line, you’re a professional because you never know who’s watching."


It was a big learning experience, gaining his professional footing overseas. Adeleye learned a lot of lessons about seizing opportunities, starting from his first one at the Maccabiah Games when he played in the friendly against Be’er Sheva, leading to his first professional contract. The main thing he took away was the knowledge that when you’re playing the game, someone is watching you, and you never know who that person is or how they can influence your life.

“It’s funny, people say this all the time… but you never know who is watching. No matter what you do, you have to conduct yourself professionally. You can be playing in some friendly match, like I was, that’s how I signed my contract. Regardless of what’s going on in your life, once you step over that line, you’re a professional because you never know who’s watching. You also must remember to be professional off the field, too. That was the biggest lesson I learned, that there’s always someone watching, and you never know who it is.”

After coming back from Israel, Adeleye played with the  Newark-based Ironbound Soul after a trial with the Carolina Railhawks was cut short due to injury. He needed a new place to get minutes and stay in shape, and settled with his new hometown team. After getting back game fit, Ryan made the move to legendary NASL team Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the club made internationally famous recently by Brazilian legend Ronaldo taking a minority ownership stake.

While it’s going to be an obvious adjustment going from Israel to the United States, it’s one that Adeleye is taking as he goes, having only played minimally in the United States beyond college.

“The Israeli Premier League and second division are very high quality leagues with good players and good football being played. As far as my experience in the United States, it’s mostly been as a spectator, honestly. I’m looking forward though to seeing how it is. I know that the teams have different styles and players of different qualities. I’m looking forward to seeing teams like the Cosmos, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, these teams I’ve heard a lot about. I can go off what my friends in MLS or NASL have to say. They have their opinions, which are great, but you never really know until you experience it yourself.”

With Ronaldo’s ownership stake in the club, and with new management in altogether, there’s an excited buzz around the team as they poise themselves to make a championship push for the 2015 season. It’s an infectious attitude from the top down, as players look to impress the new bosses, and the new bosses work to establish the trust of the players. So far it’s been working well, with everyone getting in sync.

“It’s great. Everyone has a really good attitude, everyone’s focused on succeeding. There’s new management here so everyone wants to prove themselves. The players are wanting to have a good experience, and they’re working hard trying to replicate the success of last year. We’re at the very beginning right now though, but we’re pointed in the right direction though.”

“My family, my son. My wife. They’re… I do everything for them now. Even if I don’t want to play, I do it for them because I want them to have a good life."

With six years of full time professional play under his belt, Adeleye looks to his family for continued motivation to step on the field every day. To prevent the desire to take breaks, to move on to something else, it’s the recognition that the comforts he can provide for his family are at the top of his list of motivating factors and reasons for continuing to play the game.

“My family, my son. My wife. They’re… I do everything for them now. Even if I don’t want to play, I do it for them because I want them to have a good life. If I can do something to make that happen, I’ll do it no matter what, and what better thing to do than play soccer?”

"Sometimes players think that when they’re done with college, they’re going to make it to a professional team, or when they do make it to a professional team that things are going to be easier. That’s not the case. The fact of the matter is, now you have that opportunity, now you always need to be thinking about your next step."

From his going on six year career as a professional player, Adeleye has collected important pieces of advice to give to players rising up through the ranks of amateur soccer, trying to break into the professional game and make their passion their career. It has to do with professionalism and being ready at all times, something that is often preached as a mantra by players around the world who fought to establish themselves.

“I’ll start by saying that it’s a little discouraging that there isn’t more assistance for younger players. You play all these years, and in other countries there’s natural roots and support; an opportunity for whatever reason that American players aren’t receiving. With that being said though, players need to understand that things aren’t going to be easy. They might not be easy for a long time. There’s going to be sacrifices, but I don’t really want to use that word… sometimes players think that when they’re done with college, they’re going to make it to a professional team, or when they do make it to a professional team that things are going to be easier. That’s not the case. The fact of the matter is, now you have that opportunity, now you always need to be thinking about your next step. Okay so you got this contract and you signed for this amount of money… now in order for you to move up, you have to play even better than you have been. And that means a lot of things. There’s an element of luck, there’s coaching, there’s how much you play, but you have to be ready to work really hard and understand that you might not always get rewarded how you should. You have to know if this is really something you want to do, because it’s a grind. And that’s not a bad thing, but if someone had told me that when I was getting into it, I would have been better prepared.”

Ryan Adeleye’s season kicks off on April 4 against the New York Cosmos.