By Aaron Tomich/NPSL.com
From 9:00 am to 3:00 pm every day throughout the summer months, Emmanuel Iwe, alongside other Joy of the People club players, practice playing different balls-in; various angles, passes, shots and a free-flowing training session occurred until dusk.
Mimicking the type of soccer played in places such as the favelas of Brazil, these training sessions followed a “FreePlay” model.
“This FreePlay model was initiated early in my playing style,” said Iwe, who is currently a forward for NPSL side Joy Athletic Club. “It formed a creative player, in me, that solves problems [on the field] in creative ways.”
Iwe said he was blessed with natural speed. That speed almost perfectly complements the style of play that Joy AC instills in its players. The movements of the squad, the formation throughout each minute and the overall attack flow “as easy as possible and as fast as possible,” said Iwe.
Since joining Joy of the People in 2009, Iwe has learned to tap into his creative ability on the pitch and said that over the years in this tactical system, he has learned how to adapt faster to situations and problems on the pitch.
“Instead of me moving [with the ball], the free play model pushes me to make the opponent move,” said Iwe. “I know that if someone is marking me, I can now know how to find a creative way to adapt to that situation in the game.”
The forward, who plans to begin studying computer science engineering at St. Cloud State University this fall, knows this model well because he has grown up in it for many years. His connection to Joy the People has roots in elementary school. Iwe grew up with Ted Kroeten’s (co-founder and current artistic director of Joy of the People) son Zinedine.
“I owe this club basically everything,” said Iwe. “I don’t know where I’d be without it. Ted is like a second father to me. He’s the one who really believed in me growing up, and kind of mentored me through Joy of the People.”
From hitching rides to and from matches and tournaments, to general life mentoring, Iwe learned lessons from Kroeten on and off the pitch and truly began to strive in life and in soccer.
“Emmanuel was one of the original kids, I would pick him, Marco Corona-Duran (also a Joy GOAT) and Lioul Minas (Joy assistant coach) up everyday after school,” said Kroeten. “They would just play in the gym. His [Emmanuel] development has been a testament to the power of that play, and watching him in full flight with the ball is really a thing of beauty.”
Throughout multiple summers with Joy the People, Iwe built and improved in his skills, then traveled around America and across the pond to places throughout Europe as he continued to pursue his passion of playing professional soccer. By way of a connection of Kroeten’s, Iwe and others had tryouts with the German Bundesliga side SV Werder Bremen among other clubs such as Philadelphia Union II (formerly known as Bethlehem Steel) in the USL Championship.
In early 2020, Iwe flew south to Costa Rica’s top tier, training with Deportiva Saprissa’s first team and under-21 side ahead of the upcoming season. The COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately ended his time with the Costa Rican side, but Iwe was determined to continue his passion for professional soccer, and Joy AC in the NPSL has provided him that opportunity.
“I still plan to play professionally, however that may happen,” said Iwe. “My priority now is on regrouping after the pandemic, and college kind of provides me a way to train consistently and stay fit while maximizing my exposure.”
Iwe is confident that the FreePlay model has given him the creativity and edge he needs to succeed at each level he plays, knowing that it will stick with him as he climbs the ranks of professional soccer stateside, and potentially around the globe.
“What I am most proud of with Emmanuel is his growth as a person – he is a wonderful, humble role model for the young kids at Joy,” said Kroeten. “He will eventually play at a much higher level, but he will always be part of us.”
Photo Credit: Andrei Gotsmanov and Daniel Mick Photography