There are certain aspects of soccer that just cannot be taught or coached, no matter how many hours are invested on the practice field. The best coach on earth couldn’t teach the instinctive grace and beauty that some players effortlessly epitomize with a ball at their feet.
To find this type of talent in East Tennessee, which is such a football-oriented area, is extremely rare. To find this type of talent with the background that Emmanis Houser has is of “finding a unicorn” status. He is gifted.
Emmanis, 14, is the talisman for Carpenters Middle School Cougars. This wee character originates from Haiti and moved to America on Jan. 31, 2010, after being adopted by the Houser family along with his two sisters.
Stacey Houser went down to Haiti after her husband had met one of Emmanis’ adopted sisters in Haiti at their orphanage on a mission trip. Mrs. Houser noticed Emmanis when they went down at Christmas 2010 to see his sister. They went down with the intention of adopting one kid, but came back with three. The tragic nature of the Haitian earthquake disaster sped up Emmanis’ move to America, and he ended up coming between three and six weeks early.
“It’s been a definite treat having the kids,” Houser said. “My husband and I never had children, so it was a learning curve for sure.”
Life in Haiti was far from easy for this young man, but no matter what obstacles have presented themselves, soccer has always been his strength. His eyes have seen sights average 14-year-olds could never imagine, which he did not want to go into great detail about for obvious reasons. However, one thing he could say whole-heartedly, with sparkling eyes and the cheesiest of grins etched across his face, was that “soccer is so much more than just a sport for me. Soccer is my life.”
“When I was in Haiti, I started playing soccer when I was six years old at the orphanage,” he said. “Me and my friend would get up every day at 6 a.m., 5 a.m. on Saturdays, and go practice ourselves until we got better. We would play until 4 p.m. and sometimes we would even sleep outside so we could keep playing. We had no coaches. We just played because we loved it.”
Emmanis spoke very fondly of his partner in crime he grew up with playing soccer.
“I miss my friends,” he said. “My friend, Jovins, is still in the orphanage. I miss him sometimes. We used to practice with each other every day. He is actually better than me. He wanted to come to America too, but he just didn’t have the money to do everything. If I could have one wish, I would take Jovins over here from Haiti. We would come here and we would never lose.”
The briefest of conversations with him makes it is easy to see he is a very humble, down-to-earth boy, with a level of maturity that stretches far beyond his years.
“There is some people in Haiti that want to come, but I feel really lucky because Stacey (Houser) came and adopted me the first time she met me,” he said. “It felt really good. I got the chance to play soccer and after school, I want to go to college. Then when I finish, I can maybe go back and help my family in Haiti.”
Emmanis’ maturity is evident in his character off the field and his feet on it. As a personality, he is ridiculously laid back and extremely bubbly. As a player, he has an uncanny knack of seeing the play two or three moves ahead of everyone else, and he has feet that are almost as fast as his brain on the park.
“Sometimes the game is too easy for him,” Carpenters coach Ryan Radcliffe said. “He has the potential to be one of the best players to come out of this area. It’s easy to get lost just watching him in practice. Soccer is an art when he plays.”
In terms of the culture shock after coming to America, Emmanis said he was only briefly deterred.
“I was really excited and only a little scared,” he said. “I was scared a little in Haiti after I found out I was coming because my friends said they eat people here in America. My friends fooled me, but I watched soccer and football on TV. It didn’t look like they ate anybody (laughs). It looked like fun.
“It took a while to get used to people here. It is very different. I wanted to come and have fun and I am. Here, I have more opportunities in soccer.”
Houser addressed the importance of team ethos in helping her son.
“Soccer was great for him on a social level,” she said. “He is a very social kid and he has met a lot of kids through all his soccer teams and it was really huge in helping him settle in.”
Despite the fact that he has banged in 21 goals in just three games, despite possessing an armory of skills that some college players would struggle to implement as crisply and fluidly as he does, Emmanis never forgets the other guys in his team.
“I really like my team. Soccer is great because I get to make friends,” he said. “They share my hatred of losing. I hate losing. In our last game, when they made the first goal, I almost cried. Everyone was watching and shouting for the other team. It made me so mad that they won.”
Sprightly teammate Kyle Albert, who has the task of stopping the Haitian Revelation in practice, said the following when asked about Emmanis.
“He is so difficult to play against in practice,” Albert said. “It is hard to stop him with all the moves he has. It is awesome to have him, Chris (Fernandez) and all our team. We are pretty much unstoppable.”
The nature of Blount County dictates that soccer programs here have had to deal with football luring the best young soccer athletes away from the round balls for years. Regardless of the fact Emmanis could be successful chasing “eggs” around on a football field, his heart is in one place, and one place only.
“It feels really good when I get on the field and get to score and help the team,” he said. “There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than on a soccer field. They asked me to play football here, but I say no because I only want to play soccer.”
That philosophy seems to be developing in the minds of more and more youngsters, which could see a possible change in sporting culture here in the area, but only the future knows what will be.
“Finally, I just want to say that I’m happy,” Emmanis said. “I love being here and it meant the world to me to get the chance to go to college and play after I finish school.”
Emmanis has been on one heck of a journey to date. Soccer has been a huge part of his first 14 years on this planet, and the smart money is on it being a huge part of the next 14 too. To see such humility, kindness, and worldly maturity in one so young is mind-blowing. To see him play is just a pleasure. He dribbles across the field so smoothly; you would think he was ice-skating. It is gorgeous. He is a name to keep tabs on for the future for sure.
His current gaffer, Radcliffe, is so excited about what is possible that he has already signed the young man up for summer coaching.
“Once he matures the possibilities are endless,” Radcliffe said. “There is no telling where this seventh-grader will be in 10 years. We might just see him on TV.”
Emmanis was given the gift of soccer and an American journey. The Housers were given the gift of unearthing gems. Who knows? East Tennesee sporting culture may be given the gift of soccer.
In Emmanis, we see a love of the game; a playing of the game, and a living of the game of soccer that has yet to quite hit home in America. If this doesn’t make sense here, just watch the essence of happiness that Emmanis is with a ball at his feet. He says soccer better than anyone else ever could.