Bridgeport, Conn.-Leandro Avila has always been the center of attention on the soccer field, a rising star if you will. Starting at four years old, he found himself beginning a journey in a sport that would lead him down a colorful and successful path. As a young boy, growing up in Panama City, Panama, there was a great amount of competition amongst all players from which he emerged to become one of country's most elite soccer players.
Between the ages four and 14, Avila moved from one elite club team to the next, quickly gaining the skills to get him recognized.
At age 14, Leandro entered Panama's Preparatory High school and played for his school team throughout his four years. Along with playing a key role on his high school team, he also played on teams that were reserves for two of Panama's most prestigious soccer squads. The first club he was recruited for was a U-17 reserve team, The Cyclones, at just14 years old. Avila admits that he was always on the younger side of his team, but the age gap did not stop him from getting recognized. After two years of playing for The Cyclones, he was recruited by a U-18 team, Chorrillo, as a 16-year old. Two years later, Leandro was called up to play for Panama's U-18 National team.
"It's beautiful to play for your national team," said Avila, "all of your family and friends watching you, you feel proud."
Playing for the Panamanian National Team, he has done something that many young girls and boys everywhere dream about and that's being able to put on a uniform and represent your country. Avila also said that pride is one of the many emotions that you feel when getting this opportunity, but mainly it was an indescribable feeling. In February of 2017, Leandro scored the game winning goal for his country in a CONCACAF Group Stage match against the United States' National Team.
Although Leandro found himself playing with elite tams throughout his entire life, the level of play on the international stage was far different than anything he was used to. "The U-18 and U-20 National Teams are very different, it's all of the best players from the country and putting them all on one team," said Avila, but he admits to enjoying the challenge.
In November 2017, it was time to leave the U-20 national team and head to college, as he arrived in the United States to play soccer at Iowa Western Community College, a two-year school. After graduating from IWCC this past May, Avila, through his school advisor, was put in contact with four-year school soccer coaches from all over America, and he chose the University of Bridgeport.
Since arriving in the Park City, Leandro has made an immediate positive impact on the Purple Knights' program leading the team in scoring through the first month of the season with five goals and three assists for a total of 13 points earning him Purple Knights' Male Student Athlete of the Month for September 2018. He has made many friends within the first few weeks on campus and is looking to get a degree and sticking with the University of Bridgeport men's soccer team.
After college and earning his degree, he wants to play more soccer. Leandro Avila has dedicated his life to the "Beautiful Game", and he does not intend on stopping any time soon.
Story by Ava Gambardella