Soccer has been the singular obsession of Tony Shoshi’s life for as long as he can remember.
The 23-year-old East Hampton High School graduate began playing the game when he was a child living in his native Kosovo, and the sport became a constant in his life during the turbulent times of political turmoil in his home country in the late 1990s. When Shoshi moved to the United States with his family in February of 1999 when he was 12 years old, soccer carried him through the difficult journey of adjusting to a new world where he did not speak the language. He found his niche on the pitch right away, however, and became one of the best players in the league during his four years on the Bonacker varsity team.
Shoshi’s collegiate career has had its ups and downs, due to injuries and other obstacles, but after competing on the team at Division I Sacred Heart University in Connecticut for the past two years, Shoshi is eagerly anticipating the next chapter in his soccer career, one he hopes will not end any time soon. Shoshi was recently invited to try out for FC Besa Koln, a professional soccer team located in his hometown of Peja, Kosovo. The opportunity arose after the team’s manager, Bakr Burri, contacted Shoshi’s father, Sejdi Shoshi and asked if his son would like to compete for a spot. Burri was acquainted with Shoshi’s father, who owned a restaurant while his family still lived in Kosovo and was a well-known figure in the community.
Shoshi will depart for Kosovo on May 14 and will travel and practice with the Besa players for 10 days
before the team decides if it has a permanent spot on the roster for him. Making the team would fulfill what Shoshi says has been a lifelong dream to become a professional soccer player.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved soccer,” Shoshi said during an interview in Southampton on Friday. “I asked my mom, ‘Was I born with the ball?’ It’s in my heart; it’s in my blood.”
Shoshi said he and his family got out of Kosovo right before the conflict really took off and the Serbian government closed schools and enforced other rules in an effort to force the Serbian culture and way of life on the population.
Shoshi said that the first three months in the United States were a tough adjustment period, but he said once he started his freshman year at East Hampton and joined the soccer team, everything fell into place. Shoshi was a standout striker for East Hampton, collecting All-League and All-Conference honors as well as the team MVP award during his four-year career. After graduating from high school in 2003, Shoshi accepted a scholarship offer to play at California University of Pennsylvania, but upon arriving at the school, found out that he was ineligible to compete in his first season because he lacked the necessary four years of high school English. Shoshi left the school after one semester, took a year and then returned to the school the following year, but was injured in the second game and could not play for the rest of the season.
“After that, I decided that the school was bad luck for me,” Shoshi said with a laugh. Eventually, he found his way to Sacred Heart University, which he said was a better fit because it was closer to home. Shoshi—who will have one more semester to complete after this spring in order to graduate—joined the team in 2006 and played this fall as well, but will not be able to compete on the team next fall because NCAA rules state that players are only allowed five years to complete four seasons of eligibility.
Shoshi did gain valuable experience in his two seasons at Sacred Heart, he said. He played in every game in his first full season and said he found a way to adjust from the high school to collegiate level.
“It was very different,” he said. “I wasn’t as much of an individual player just trying to score a lot of goals.”
Shoshi also said that despite the frustration of not having the chance to play for a full four years in college, he never lost sight of his goal to play soccer professionally and he’s excited to test his skills at the next level.
“I think it will be a great experience,” he said of the impending tryout. “I’ll get to see where I stand.”
Joe Borroso, the head coach at Sacred Heart, said that getting an invitation for a personal tryout for Basra should be a big advantage for Shoshi.
“Otherwise, it’s extremely difficult to make any team,” Borroso said. “They care mostly for those that they already have on the team and those that they know they want to come to the team. By being invited, they’ll take him in and try to help them rather than push him to the side thinking he might take someone else’s spot.”
If Basra decides to make room on its team for Shoshi, he’ll remain with the squad until the end of the season, which runs through June. The season starts again in August and runs through December, with a break in January and February before starting again in March. Shoshi said it is important for him to finish his final semester at Sacred Heart and earn his degree, although he said if he makes the team, it could make that task more difficult.
Shoshi has been focused on preparing for the tryout, competing in spring ball at Sacred Heart while also taking part in his own training regimen in addition to what he does with the team. Shoshi said he hits the gym at 5:30 in the morning before practice and goes back for another workout at the end of the day as well.
“All I do is eat, sleep, train and go to classes,” he said.
Shoshi said he is confident that the hard work will pay off and said he feels ready for the big test.
“I feel really good,” he said. “My confidence is really up there right now. I think I’m capable of playing with the top soccer teams.”
Borroso, who played professionally in Portugal, said he has faith in Shoshi’s abilities to compete at the next level as well.
“It’s a huge transition, but the only advice I gave him is to make sure he is 100 percent in shape,” Borroso said. “The rest is a lot of luck. He understands the game and I think he is ready for the task.”
The coach had plenty of praise for his standout player, whom he said he’ll be sad to see leave his team.
“Tony is an equally great person on and off the field,” Borroso added. “He’s the first one to show up and the last one to leave. He works extremely hard and he’s very passionate about the game. He does everything possible to better himself.”
While Shoshi is focused for the time being on making the team in his native country, he has even loftier goals in mind as well.
“My ultimate dream is to play in the English Premier League,” he said, his grin widening. “That’s been my dream ever since I’ve been a little kid.”