Sometimes things are just meant to be.
For Ezra VanCleave, a 7th grader at Hart Middle School in Pleasanton, it seems he was made to be a soccer player. The only question – would he be exposed to the needed pathway to take his game to the next level.
He got just the pathway he needed when he was adopted, brought to the United States, played with the Ballistic United Soccer Club, and recently was signed with the San Jose Earthquakes Developmental Academy – at the age of 12.
But how did it all come to be?
Ezra was living in an orphanage in Ethiopia when Matt VanCleave and his wife Kathy first saw Ezra at the age of four. He was playing soccer with older kids as the orphanage was for kids up to 12-years-old and was holding his own.
The VanCleave’s adopted Ezra when he was five and had the plan to expose Ezra to all sports when they returned to the United States.
“He was playing well (in soccer) but I thought he’d get into baseball when we got back,” said Matt.
Ezra had other ideas.
“I had him in basketball, baseball, etc.,” said Matt. “I’d ask him if he wanted to play baseball and he would say, ‘No Dad’.”
So, soccer it was, and Ezra took off when he was playing with kids his own age.
“He was levels above his own peers when he got here,” said Matt. “He didn’t speak English, but he could count to 100. In the third game he would score a goal, run down the sideline, and say ‘that’s one, dad’. Then he scored again and say, ‘that’s two, dad.’ He ended the game with 23 goals.”
Ballistic helped take Ezra and nurtured his amazing skill set to where he was good enough to move on to the Earthquakes Academy program.
Moving on to the Earthquakes did not take Matt by surprise. He saw Ezra compete at the age of four against much older kids. When he got to the United States and his prowess continued to increase, Matt correctly thought it was the next step.
“If you would have told me Ezra would be in the Academy, I would have thought, ‘that makes sense’,” said Matt.
It didn’t catch the Ballistic coaching staff by surprise either.
“Ezra is an incredibly creative player,” said BUSC Director of Coaching, Competitive Program Brady Taylor. “You can see the passion that he has for the game when he plays. He can create chances out of nothing, which is really exciting to see.”
Matt has had nothing but wonderful things to say about the Ballistic coaching staff.
““There have always been these great coaches at Ballistic,” said Matt. “We are very grateful for the investment the staff at Ballistic made for Ezra.”
Ballistic prides itself on providing a pathway for their players to be successful.
“To see him come up through the club since he was an 8-year-old is a testament not only to the club’s clear development pathway, but also Ezra’s dedication to achieving his goals in soccer,” said Taylor.
And despite losing a player like Ezra from their player ranks, Taylor could only smile when thinking what the future holds for the young man. He also knows it will be mutually beneficial for the Earthquakes as well.
“Ezra is a very hard-working player and will do excellent regardless of the environment he is playing in,” said Taylor. “I have no doubt that Ezra will not only benefit from being in the Quakes organization, but they will benefit from having him.”