Issa Mudashiru ’21, who will attend Princeton University in the fall of 2021, has been playing soccer since he was three-years old, moving from recreation teams to club and academy teams to a professional opportunity with D.C. United during the pandemic.
An All-IAC athlete and accomplished violinist, Issa not only played for Loudoun United, but he also worked with Landon and Holton-Arms School students with Grassroots Soccer, a non-profit that promotes soccer and mobilizes at-risk youth in developing countries.
In this Q&A, Issa explains his journey to playing pro and how he balanced his studies with soccer at Landon.
Q: How did you get the opportunity to play pro during the pandemic?
A: D.C. United has an affiliate team called Loudoun United. They play in the USL championship of America, which is the second professional division behind Major League Soccer (MLS). Loudoun was created as an opportunity for rising players who were working their way through the academy to get that professional experience. I got called up to play about two years after it launched. During July 2020, I was contacted by the director of the academy who put me in touch with the head coach, and I signed my academy contract. With the academy contract, I could then have the opportunity to train and play in professional matches while also maintaining my eligibility to play college soccer.
Q: What was it like to play professional soccer when you compare it to club or high school teams?
A: It was a very different environment. You get fined if you come to practice late. Your teammates are there for you, but they also want to win, first and foremost all the time so the pressure is always on. You have to always perform if you want to play. I think D.C. United did prepare me very well for playing professional soccer. Technique-wise, I feel like I am there. The physical is very different though, you are playing against guys at different ages who are bigger than you. But by playing more and more, you adapt to that environment and build strength.
Q: What did you enjoy most about the experience?
A: It is a dream come true to play in a professional soccer game to have your number and your name on the back of your jersey. It is crazy really. And then to see yourself on TV after the game, I couldn’t believe it.
Q: Do you plan to play professional soccer after college?
A: Yes absolutely. Going to Princeton, I know that they have sent guys to MLS so I am hoping to be one of those players. That’s my goal: to make it to the MLS.
Q: It’s challenging to balance academics and athletics. How did you do and stay true to your goal?
A: It was a challenge for sure. It’s all about balance. I would have to take the train to and from practice like four times a week. The entire evening was taken up with soccer, so it was all about time management as well. I would find time during school during free periods and study halls to get work done. I would use whatever time I had on the train when it wasn’t too crowded to sit down and get some reading done for Humanities and other classes. Something else I learned in Middle School is to wake up really early in the morning instead of staying up really late to study and do my work, because I was fresh and more focused (with a little coffee if my mom would let me!). Communicating with my teachers was a big part of it too, especially when I had to travel. I was really grateful to have teachers who were willing to work with me through all of it.
Q: How do you feel that Landon played a role in your success?
A: Landon was a huge part of my success. To be able to attend Princeton and play soccer there, I would not have been able to do that without the support of my teachers and classmates at Landon. Obviously, hard work – doing the work— has to come from me. My teachers were always in my corner, helping me with my studies or even just to talk things through when I was stressed about school, soccer, anything. Landon also instilled in me many values, and I think one of those values is respect. The whole college application experience – writing an email, talking on the phone with coaches, making a good first impression – I learned those skills at Landon.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at Princeton and in your college career?
A: I love Landon, but there is something exciting about entering a new environment and experiencing life outside the White Rocks. I would like to start as a first-year student at Princeton and play in front of a crowd – that would be super exciting!