Alecko Eskandarian

For Alecko Eskandarian Soccer Runs in the Blood

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By Maria Cozette Akopian, MBA, EdD

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

MAHWAH, N.J. — Alecko Eskandarian grew up in New Jersey with a father who had an illustrious soccer career. Quite literally, Alecko followed in his father’s footsteps and in doing so, forged a path to success.

His father, Andranik Eskandarian, was a star member of the Iranian team winning the Asia Cup and reaching the Olympic Tournament in Montreal in 1976. Andranik also played in the World Cup of 1978 — Iran’s first appearance in the tournament.

Alecko Eskandarian

When asked whether his father’s legacy was what fueled his drive to pursue soccer, the younger Eskandarian replied: “There are different personality traits that are indicators of success. While I greatly benefited from my dad coaching me, I always had that personality and commitment, which were the underlying factors that took me to the next level.” His older brother Ara was also a source of inspiration.

Soccer as a spectator sport is not as popular in the United States as in the rest of the world, but Alecko gravitated towards the sport as he surrounded himself with mentors and idols. He explains soccer as his outlet to expend the seemingly inexhaustible energy he had throughout adolescence.

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“Soccer helped with my confidence. I committed myself, did the best that I could and got the rewards immediately. I became a mad man when I played. I had to be so good that nobody could deny my performance or capabilities,” he said.

Alecko also said he discovered the importance and purpose of his Armenian identity. He has consistently utilized his platform to promote the Armenian cause by connecting with fellow Armenian athletes, getting involved with numerous non-profit organizations, and creating popular posts about what an Armenian is.

“Our revenge is to survive,” he stated in one of his posts that gained massive traction amongst Armenians and non-Armenians alike.

During the Artsakh war of 2020, Alecko dove into researching charitable avenues to support Armenia. He connected with a handful of non-profit organizations that he had solidified relationships with, including the Armenian Relief Society and Focus on Children Now. He used his network, raised money, and allocated the funds to five charities that he believed had missions with a meaningful impact.

Concurrently, on a joint mission with fellow Armenians, Alecko felt compelled to be a voice to spread awareness about the war. He said, “My non-Armenian friends have been blown away by the realities of what my country faces.”

Alecko Eskandarian

If one scrolls through his social media accounts, one can find notes echoing his pride in being Armenian, the values that his family has instilled, and commemorative messages on the Armenian Genocide.

As a young adult and professional athlete, Alecko became an outspoken ambassador for all things Armenian, making an impact in both the Armenian and the non-Armenian world.

“It’s everything; it’s our responsibility,” Alecko responded immediately as I asked why he thought it was important for Armenians to give back to their cause: “When you look at the history of our people, it’s built upon those who have kept it, cherished it, and passed it on.” He explained the parallels of his career with what Armenians represent in the global context. “I’ve been the underdog but when my back is up against the wall, I’m going to fight and when I fight, you’re going to get everything and more that you can handle. I feel the same about being Armenian. When push comes to shove, I’m never going to waver.”

Eskandarian played for D.C. United in 2003. His talents led the team to win the 2004 Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup and earned him the D.C. United Coaches Award, as well as a spot on the MLS All-Star team. Alecko won the championship by scoring two goals in the first half, making it the fastest pair of goals in MLS Cup history. After sustaining a head injury, he ended the season early but came back to the game in 2006 with a vengeance. Alecko’s shining return earned him the Commissioner’s Pick as an MLS All-Star.

Chivas USA acquired Alecko in 2008 and in 2009, he was traded to Los Angeles Galaxy. He debuted with a game-winning goal but in 2010, at the age of 27, Alecko hung up his cleats due to multiple head injuries that prevented him from receiving medical clearance to play any further.

“It was a reality check. I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and thought, ‘Who am I now?’” he said. Using his strong mindset and athletic resilience, Alecko went back to school at the University of Virginia to finish his bachelor’s degree requirements and spent time reflecting on his next steps.

A friend reached out to him with a comment that resonated, igniting a new journey he would begin from that day forward. “You’ve always been much more than a soccer player,” said his friend. That stuck, and Alecko instantly opened his heart to the possibility of becoming a coach.

Alecko as a toddler with his father and older brother, Ara (photo by Harry Koundakjian)

He reminisced: “I’ve been so blessed to have the life I’ve had, to have gone pro. What a waste it would be if I didn’t pass this on to someone else.”

Eskandarian reached great heights in serving as a youth technical director for the Philadelphia Union soccer club. He then went on to become assistant coach for the New York Cosmos — the club where his father used to play. In 2015, he led the Cosmos B squad to the National Premier Soccer League. He finished his first season as head coach, playing in front of the largest crowd ever for an amateur soccer match in the US.

He later went on to MLS in an administrative position and is currently there to help the league make strides in further popularizing the sport in the United States.

No interview with Alecko Eskandarian can be complete without touching on The Date: Several years ago, he received a phone call from Kim Kardashian’s mother Kris Jenner. She asked if Alecko would like to take Kim on a date. This would also be part of an episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Alecko recalled the experience as “insane” since he walked up to a table for two already fully set up to be filmed at a local Los Angeles restaurant.

“In the morning, I got a phone call from Kris Jenner. Within one day, we set up the date. The way that whole thing came about was random. I was playing for Galaxy and living in Los Angeles… I have nothing but good things to say about Kim. She is super down-to-earth and funny, and we had a great time. For me, it was more like meeting a fellow Armenian and striking up a friendship.”

In conclusion, when asked what advice he would give to aspiring athletes, he said, “Work hard, practice, and dream big. If you think small, you’re going to be small. Find who the top person is and measure yourself with them. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

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