WSD coach playing on the world stage
Matthew Eby is developing a legacy in the soccer community, having recently participated in his sixth international tournament.
So, it's little wonder that he was named United States Deaf Soccer's Legacy Award winner in 2012, an honor given to Team USA players upon competing in four or more major tournaments.
Eby, 32, is entering his fifth year as athletic director at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delavan, where he led the Firebirds girls basketball team to the Central States championship in 2014.
Still, soccer has been his forte, picking up the game at age 11 in his native Pennsylvania. He was asked to attend a tryout camp in California in 2004, earning a spot on the U.S. Deaf Soccer national team.
He performed so well that he became a three-time all-conference selection at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where he graduated in 2008.
And he has continued to shine — and travel. Eby has played in the Deaflympics Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia, in 2005 and Taipei, Taiwan, in 2009. And he and his fellow Americans recently placed sixth in qualifying for their third straight Deaf World Cup appearance, this one in Italy.
“I've been honored to play with and always loved to be a part of this team since 2004,” Eby said. “We all bonded pretty close for 17 days. I started all six games in 11 days, logged more than 570 total minutes.
“I have to admit at my age and with my legs, I ran out of gas at the end of the tournament,” he added about 2016 event. “But I would like to thank all of the people who helped and supported me and the U.S. in this tremendous opportunity, including my family and co-workers over many years.”
As for the 2016 competitions, the U.S. squad posted a 1-0 win against Japan, tied Greece and lost a 2-0 decision to Russia in group play. A controversial loss to Germany preceded a shootout win over Britain. However, the U.S. fell to Egypt, 2-0, to settle for sixth place.
It was a disappointing end, but an improvement from 12th place in 2012 — the Americans finished fourth in the inaugural World Cup in '08.
Eby mostly plays defense, but he scored a goal in a 1-all tie against eventual champion and host Turkey in the '12 Games.
It's been quite an adventure for someone who grew up on a family farm in Pennsylvania.
“I started playing soccer at 11 years old and was taught by my two older brothers,” Eby said. “My oldest brother, Phil, I always attended all of his high school soccer games, where I learned more about the sport. My middle brother, James, always helped me out by going to my soccer games and interpreting for me in high school.”
Eby said the friendships and bonds that he has established are what make playing for U.S. Deaf Soccer so special.
“All the players have come from diverse backgrounds, but we're connected by the fact that we have grown up facing similar barriers and soccer is our passion,” he said.
“The players are from all over the U.S. … some are from New Jersey and others in California, Florida and Texas. We get together for three- to four-day weekends two or three times a year at different locations. All players are expected to be in top fitness on their own time. Most of us are juggling college, full-time jobs and families.
“We do not get free rides like the Olympics athletes do,” Eby added. “The entire team is self-funded with very little financial help. We have camps two or three times a year at the different locations and they are costly for many of us. Because I have been on the team, the trips to the Deaflympics were funded by the team, and we had to seek donations and sponsors.”
However, as they say, the memories are priceless. And Eby has a couple of them that stand out.
“There are several memorable moments, but at the 2009 Summer Deaflympics in Taiwan probably was the top … meeting other deaf people around the world, learning about their cultures and making new friends. We also walked into the sold-out stadium at the opening ceremonies parade.”
The other highlight came in the 2005 Deaflympics in Australia, a 3-1 upset of Britain.
“Because we scored three goals, we advanced to the next round after losing to Ireland (2-0) and tying Japan (0-0) in group play. If we hadn't scored three goals that day we would not have advanced into the quarterfinals. I scored the second goal with a header, and it was my first international goal.”
Eby said participating in such faraway places offers plenty of opportunities to learn about other things than soccer, and that included this summer's visit to Italy.
“I didn't sightsee as much as I hoped for because we were focused on soccer, but when we had some free time, we'd spend it with teammates, go to the beach, eat at our favorite pizza spot, visit the Paestum Ruins or a local town, Agropoli.
“In addition, both the U.S. men's and women's teams got a special invitation and met the Eboli mayor because he wanted to show his appreciation for the Americans and explained why he invited us,” Eby added. “There is a museum of Operation Avalanche and (he) showed the video of how the Americans helped the Italians push out the Germans in World War II.”