By Michael Sudhalter
Matan Tsaroya had accomplished just about everything possible during his junior season on the soccer pitch.
The Akiba Yavneh Academy (AYA) senior led the Bulldogs in goals and assists as AYA reached the state semifinals. He was a unanimous All-State selection.
AYA graduated its entire backline and debuted the 2023 season with a rare loss (in penalty kicks to break a 2-2 tie) on Aug. 29 at Dallas International.
Tsaroya, a two-time senior captain, approached Coaches Alan and Barry Sandler to request a position change.
“He contacted us and said, ‘I need to move to the back,’” Head Coach Alan Sandler said.
Sandler has coached soccer for more than 30 years and said it’s rare for a top scorer to request a move to defense.
An analogy to American football would be if Tsaroya’s beloved Philadelphia Eagles moved star quarterback Jalen Hurts to strengthen the team’s defensive backfield.
“Most kids want the limelight of scoring goals,” Sandler said. “He took it on his shoulders to move to the backline. It really shows maturity.”
The results have been positive as AYA has won 10 consecutive matches since the season opening loss. They’ve outscored their opponents, 27-7, during that span.
Tsaroya said winning a TAPPS State Championship in Round Rock — after consecutive trips to the state semifinals — was at the heart of his request to the coaching staff.
“This is my senior year and it’s my last chance to do it,” Tsaroya said. “I have the motivation to win and everybody on the team is ready. I’m not here to score goals — I’m here to win.”
Despite the move to defense, Tsaroya still has three goals and three assists on the season.
Born in Philadelphia to Israeli parents in 2006, Tsaroya began playing soccer when he was in kindergarten.
When Tsaroya was 9 years old, his family moved to Shoham, Israel, where he continued playing soccer, for a competitive team called Maccabi Shalom.
Tsaroya enjoyed that experience, but he was glad that his family relocated to Dallas when he was 14 years old. He had friends in Dallas that he had met at a Jewish summer camp in the Pocono Mountains.
Also, his father would frequently have to travel to the United States for three weeks at a time. Living in the U.S. means Tsaroya’s father has the opportunity to spend more time with the family, including Matan and his two younger sisters, both of whom also attend AYA.
Tsaroya was set to debut on the AYA varsity soccer team in the fall of 2020, but the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’s now in his third season of varsity soccer but doesn’t expect to continue the sport in college. Tsaroya would like to study at Maryland, Miami, Florida or The University of Texas at Austin with plans of pursuing a career in the growing industry of cybersecurity. Tsaroya, who holds citizenship in the U.S. and Israel, is also considering a gap year in Israel.
His favorite classes at AYA are Talmud, science and English.
Tsaroya has grown up in the Modern Orthodox tradition. His family honors Shabbos each week and keeps kosher.
Tsaroya thinks back to the parasha from his bar mitzvah in Israel. It was about the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the land of Israel. It was a parasha that Tsaroya knows will serve him well throughout his life.
“It taught that God is always guiding you — whether you see it or not,” Tsaroya said. “God is always taking you to the best possible path.”