Player Feature: Matthew Eby
It is true that Matthew Eby is one of the few known deaf professional soccer players in the world. While this is an amazing fact, people caught up in his incredible story may overlook one crucial aspect. Eby is a damn good player who has put in two solid performances off the bench in Real Maryland’s last two games.
Eby entered the match against Pittsburgh in the 60th minute and shored up a defense that was beginning to look vulnerable, especially after the dismissal of Ronald Cerritos reduced the team to ten men. Eby’s good positional play and hard nosed tackling helped to preserve the clean sheet in Real Maryland’s historic first ever victory.
Against Western Mass, Eby came into the game in the 68th minute and made many crucial tackles as Real Maryland battled with ten men yet again. The Monarchs lost 1-0, but the score-line would have been worse had it not been for some last ditch defending by the former Gallaudet standout.
“Being able to play was a great experience for me,” Eby said in an interview over e-mail, “and a big rush. Watching the first half of the game made me prepared for the second half on what I needed to do.”
Eby’s journey to professional soccer started in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Eby grew up on a poultry farm where 14 thousand chickens produce organic eggs.
Eby is the only deaf person in his family, but says that he never felt like he was any different from his brothers, or anyone else.
“My family learned sign language to communication with me. I felt like I grew up in normal family like everybody else. I don’t know any different and neither does my family. They care about me, and they supported me a lot growing up. That’s what families are all about.”
Eby did not attend any special schools. Instead he had an American Sign Language interpreter who attended all his classes and extra curricular activities. “I didn’t have any special accommodations really. I was just like the other kids in school but only I couldn’t hear.”
Despite being from a small town, Lancaster has a deaf community. “In my hometown, I have several good deaf friends. Every summer we always got together for summer activities twice a week,” Eby recalls. “It was lot of fun to interact with other deaf friends because we could easily communicate. Other than in hearing school, I hung out with my deaf friends on the weekend.”
Eby credits his soccer skills to his brothers with whom he grew up playing soccer outside their house. Unlike most professionals, however, Eby never played club soccer. In fact, he didn’t start playing until middle school.
At Lancaster Mennonite High School, Eby played three years of varsity soccer. As a starter his junior season, the Blazers posted a record of 20-5-4 and went to the Pennsylvania State AA semi-finals. Eby tallied the game winning goal in the quarter finals. In his senior season, the team won the Lancaster- Lebanon League Championship, but lost in the district tournament. For his efforts, Eby was a two time All Star selection in 2001 and 2002.
In addition to his exploits with the Lancaster Mennonite soccer team, Eby was also a starter on the Blazer’s basketball team. In his junior season, the Blazers went all the way to the Pennsylvania State AAA final four. In his senior year, Eby switched from guard to point guard and led the team to a 23-5 record and a sectional championship.
Eby was recruited by Gallaudet Basketball coach James DeStefano but decided he wanted to play soccer as well. For Eby, attending Gallaudet was neither a tough decision nor a big adjustment.
“I decided to go to Gallaudet University because of the large deaf community there. It was an easy adjustment for me because I was speaking my native language as everyone else there at Gallaudet. I also felt I would benefit more for my future at Gallaudet than at a hearing college because all the teachers here use sign language. In a hearing university I would have to have an interpreter with me but at Gallaudet I wouldn’t.”
As a member of the Gallaudet men’s soccer team Eby was a three-time Second Team All-Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) selection in 2004, 2005, and 2006, scoring 21 goals in the process.
Eby was also a member of the Gallaudet men’s basketball team for three years.
In 2007, Eby focused solely on soccer, and was named Gallaudet Male Athlete of the year.
“As I played two sports it was hard to manage my studies. There is tutoring for athletes which helped me to study, and I studied on the way to games when we’d take long road trip. Moving into Washington DC was a major change for me. I lived in the country, but I learned a lot through my first year and have adjusted to the city very well. The deaf community is very easily accessed for me at Gallaudet University. Most of people have access to sign language, and all of my professors use American Sign Language, my coaches too. I can communicate with anyone and understand them easily. Of course I am able to communicate with people who can hear in different ways when I go out in Washington D.C. by using written paper or gestures.”
Eby completed his degree in December of 2007, and will graduate on May 16th with Bachelor of Science in Physical Education and a minor in Athletic Coaching.
Eby currently serves as the Assistant Coach to Larry Musa at Gallaudet. Eby sees coaching as one of his main goals for the future.
“My coaching aspiration is to continue coaching soccer and recruiting qualified deaf prospective student athletes around the nation as well as internationally. I am seeking students who are motivated by honest hard work and committed to a high standard in training so that we can build a winning tradition. Also, we want to bring our players to the U.S. National Deaf soccer team. Someday in the future, I would like to be the Head Coach for the Gallaudet Men’s Soccer team and the U.S. National Deaf Soccer team.”
In addition to being a two star stud at Gallaudet, Eby also met his wife Kimberly during New Student Orientation. “She has always been there for me and is still there for me to cheer me on,” Eby gloats. “I couldn’t ask for a better number one fan.”
The couple began dating in 2003 and got married on June 11, 2005 in Kimberly’s home town of Duluth, Minnesota.
A little over a year later, Eby and Kimberly had their first son when Trenton was born on June 16, 2006. The Eby’s are now getting ready to welcome a new member to their family.
“The second is on the way this summer, which I’m looking forward to,” Eby writes in his interview. “Since I have watched my son Trenton grow up so fast, I am looking forward to watching my second child grow up too. I am also looking forward to seeing my son interact with the new baby and to see him teach the same stuff that my wife and I taught him. Trenton has been a blessing for my wife and me. We always look forward to seeing what he will discover each and every day.”
At the end of his senior season, one of Eby’s coaches saw a notice about the Real Maryland tryouts and encouraged Eby to attend. “It was an opportunity that I never expected to receive,” Eby recollects. “Having this opportunity worked out great because I had just finished with my college career.”
On a cold day in early November, Eby and an interpreter showed up for the tryouts. “I was nervous about how many people were there because I wanted the coaches to notice me since the coaches had to decide who had the talent and who didn’t,” Eby recalls.
Eby says he did not have high hopes, but he wanted to test his skills and he went in with the mindset that he was just going to play his heart out. Gonzalo invited Eby back for the next round of tryouts and was impressed by Eby’s work rate and fitness levels. Gonzalo told Eby he would be invited back for preseason training. While Eby was excited, he knew his invitation was not a guarantee and that he would need to keep working hard.
Eby joined the team for the preseason in February and was offered a contract in March.
“I was thrilled about this news, and about being a part of this team and its inaugural season,” Eby says. “I thought it would be very difficult because it's hard to become a deaf professional athlete in any sport, but I didn't think my situation would put me at a big disadvantage. I worked hard and proved to them that I could be part of the team. I want to show that deaf athletes can play at the top levels of competition with hearing teams.”
With the fourth game of the season on the horizon, Eby says he feels comfortable with his teammates and that, despite the communication barrier, they are meshing well together.
“We all get along very well. It’s nice to see that they take the time to try and communicate with me and help me when I am confused about something. They are able to adjust very well with me as I am with them, which I’m pleased about. I feel that we communicate just fine. We use gestures or write on paper to communicate with each other.”
Sometimes Eby brings an interpreter to practice and games. While having an interpreter makes it easier, Eby says he is able to get along just fine without it.
“It is not necessary a lot harder when the translator isn’t there, but I would understand what the coaches are saying at the beginning and end of practices. During most practices we focus on techniques and mental skills so it’s not always necessary for me to have an interpreter there just to stand around and do nothing when nothing is being said. There are several players who don’t speak English like me. For me it’s all about watching what the others are doing in practice then I follow them. I only need to see what we are doing once and I catch on really quickly.”
For Eby the biggest challenge is his inability to hear the whistle. So he needs to watch carefully for stoppages in play. Eby says he communicates with his team by making gestures and calls while coach Gonzalo writes directions on paper or gives Eby the thumbs up when he wants him to go in.
“My position as a defender allows me to see almost everyone on the field, as eye contact is very important in this level of professional competition. I am always aware of what is going on.”
In addition to his exploits with Real Maryland, Eby is a member of the US Men’s Deaf National Team. His position with the Monarchs gives him the distinction of being the only Professional player representing his country.
U.S. Deaf National Soccer Website: www.usdeafsoccer.com
Eby has been a member of the Men’s National Deaf team since 2003 when some of his Gallaudet teammates encouraged him to try out. Eby made his first appearance with the US Deaf National Team in 2005 at the Summer Deaflympics in Melbourne Australia.
“Deaflympics are more than an athletic competition,” Eby writes. “It is a coming together of hundreds of individuals who all are sharing one thing in common, a hearing loss. Of course, their sign language is different but we use gestures, body language and facial expressions during our socialization times. The deaf people were friendly.”
In July of last year, the team traveled to England. The team trained for nine days in Cannock and had their first ever match with the Great Britain Deaf Team, gold medal winners of the 2005 Deaflympics and the best Deaf team in the world. The US tied them 0-0, a major achievement.
From July 1-12, Eby will travel with the US Deaf National Team to Patras, Greece for the first ever World Deaf Soccer Championships. “This World Championship will give me a tremendous opportunity to compete at an international soccer event and to meet athletes from other countries.”
World Football Championship Website: http:www.wdfc2008.gr/
The cost of traveling to the World Deaf Soccer Championship is astronomical and each player must raise over $5,000 dollars.
“Unfortunately, the chance to travel to this tournament also creates a huge financial burden.” Eby writes in his interview. “This financial commitment is unrealistic to achieve unless we are given financial support. A sponsorship will serve to reduce the cost of each of us individually in order to participate. Donations will help assist with the cost of transportation, lodging, meals, training, and team uniforms. Any help that is given will give our team a chance for this great experience.”
Eby is confident that he and his teammates will reach their goal and make their appearance at this year’s inaugural World Deaf Soccer Championships and Eby is happy to talk to anyone who is interested in helping the team out.
“For more information about sponsors or any questions about the U.S. Deaf National Team, please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected].”
While Real Maryland hopes that Eby reaches his goal and gets to travel to Greece, the Monarchs are secretly wondering how they are going to cope for up to three weeks and four games without Matthew Eby on their roster.