Hartford City FC goalkeeper Hami Kara and midfielder Sebastian Stezewski were recently selected to be part of the Champions Experience, a series of friendlies, camps, and events that featured Bayern Munich superstars Douglas Costa and Rafinha. The Champions Experience brought a lot of media attention to the Northeast and to this pair of Hartford City standouts.
“Media coverage was huge for both events along with the attendance,” Kara commented. “I would say the first event in Hamden was definitely bigger with much more media and a crowd of 2K plus. There were news crews there and 20-25 media guys on the pitch. It was amazing.”
People turned out in droves as Costa and Rafinha are widely regarded as some of the world’s best players. Both currently play for the Bavarians and the Brazil National Team with Costa recently being connected with a possible transfer to Juventus.
The fact that the pair were coming to America was special, but just getting to play against the duo was a dream come true for Kara.
“It was an incredible opportunity to be able to lineup and step foot on the same field. Watching them play was a privilege and it’s very obvious to see what sets them apart from the rest of us. The moment that really stood out to me was at halftime in the locker room. Douglas Costa cracked a joke about firing a shot off the post on me by saying ‘you have luck my friend.’ Goes to show you that these guys are human and overall great people who are also enjoying the experience.”
As hinted above, Kara was able to hold his own and even come up with some great moments during the matches, including two impressive saves against Costa. That’s quite amazing considering these players are known worldwide for their dribbling, pace, and crossing ability.
“Their pace is phenomenal,” Kara continued. “They are smaller than you might expect with both at 5’7”. But their technical skills stand out like no other. Their touch and control along with fast feet is world-class. They also bring competitive spirit. Even when we got scored on, they urged the squad to pick it up.”
Kara and Stezewski are used to a high level of play thanks to playing in the always competitive Northeast Region of the NPSL. Kara has played in eight games, finishing with three wins and two shutouts. Stezewski played in seven games, quickly becoming a central force in the Hartford City midfield.
It’s no surprise that Kara is one of the Northeast Region’s most prolific players. He would earn a plethora of awards at Wethersfield High School, including All-Conference, Conference Player of the Year, All-State, and NSCAA All-New England honors. He would go on to become an NSCAA All-American in junior college before embarking on a prolific career at the University of Pittsburgh. During his time at Pitt, he would earn Big East Goalkeeper of the Week honors three times and finish in the top 10 in shutouts in school history. As a professional he would spend time with several clubs in Turkey in addition to playing for the Columbus Crew during the 2013 MLS preseason.
Stezewski was a star himself at Southern New Hampshire University, finishing his collegiate career with 24 goals and 18 assists from 75 games played (47 starts). He would be rewarded with an impressive collections of awards, including Northeast-10 First Team All-Conference and Capital One Academic All-District Team honors.
The duo’s contributions to the club and this event are truly unmatched.
“The experience of playing on the Champions Experience All-Star team gave our Hartford City players an experience of a lifetime and allowed for our team to reach a new fanbase,” Hartford City FC President Shawn Simao added.
So it is easy to say that the Champions Experience was a successful event for all involved. It allowed dreams to come true and brands to grow with many memories made in the process.
Even more will come from Connecticut’s most visible derby, which just happens to be taking place this weekend as Hartford City takes on the Elm City Express of New Haven, Connecticut.
Playing with and against Costa and Rafinha will certainly gives Kara and Stezewski some excellent preparation for this highly anticipated match. They will be ready for just about anything.