Soccer sabras blossom in New Jersey

“I moved three times when I was living in Israel. In the end, we will always be friends no matter where we are.”

Mercer 311 (photo credit: Keldy Ortiz)
Mercer 311
(photo credit: Keldy Ortiz)
NEW YORK – The lives of Amit Aburmad and Ido Ligety mirror each other so clearly it’s amazing that they didn’t meet until migrating to the United States.
Both started playing soccer in the streets of Israel, aspiring to become the next big soccer players. Though they were from different towns – Aburmad lived in Zofim, while Ligety resided about an hour away in Nofit – the two finally met on the pitch at Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, New Jersey.
Upon completion of high school, as mandated by all Israeli citizens, Ligety and Aburmad were required to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. Playing soccer was postponed by the war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006, but upon finishing their three years of service, both still had the hunger to explore the US.
Still strangers to each other, they were released from the army at around the same time, and both were forced to file late for fall admissions to post-secondary programs. The only school that accepted their application and met their requirements – both academics and soccer – was Mercer County Community College in New Jersey.
“The idea of coming to the United States was always really appealing for me, as was getting scholarships for soccer,” 24-year-old Ligety remarked earlier this month. “The whole college life and experience was really attractive to me. I always wanted to pursue that.”
Not everyone agreed in Aburmad’s family, though. His parents agreed to disagree.
“My mom pushed me from the beginning,” he said. “She said, ‘Go after your dreams and do whatever you feel is right for yourself.’ My dad, however, took it a little personally because he wanted me to be part of the family,” Aburmad, also 24, said.
But after convincing his father that the opportunity was too good to pass up, Aburmad was en route to America.
It was not until settling in at Mercer that both Ligety and Aburmad struck up a friendship. Ironically, when Amit mentioned his newfound friend Ido during a friendly conversation with his mother, she responded that she had close ties with Ido’s aunt.
“We knew each other, but we never met [in Israel] and then we started being like brothers to each other because we come from the same culture, from the same country,” Aburmad said. “It was easier to understand each other than other people who were around us.”
While at Mercer, Aburmad and Ligety maintained their religious practices – they went to temple and celebrated all holidays. They both said that further strengthened their bond.
Current Rutgers assistant coach and former Mercer men’s soccer head coach Charlie Inverso noticed the bond as it was forming, and also realized he had two very talented players.
“The old statement in soccer is that some players are piano players and others are piano movers. They are a pretty good combination of each,” said Inverso, who left Mercer in February.
The two grew closer on the field as they played, and Mercer County finished the 2008 season ranked third nationally, according to the National Junior College Association of Division I. Though the team fell short in the national title game, both players received All-American honors.
In the 2009 season, the historic tagteam continued, as Mercer finished the season 14-2 and won the Garden State Athletic Conference title. But the season did not finish according to the team’s plans, as they were unable to make it to their ninth straight national championship appearance.
After finishing the season, both hoped to be recruited and play for the same four-year school. Ido received a full scholarship to play at St. John’s University in New York, while Amit was offered the same, but at Boston College in Massachusetts.
Suddenly, after two years of being each other’s crutch in times of loneliness, the two were forced to begin a new chapter in their lives.
Transition was harder for Aburmad, because not only did he have to adapt to a new city, he also had no one to practice his faith with.
“I started getting used to it, but in the beginning it was hard like everything else, like every other beginning,” said Aburmad.
Aburmad, unlike Ido, continues to practice Judaism. Ido said that being religious is something that was hard to continue.
“In Israel, you always celebrate the holidays, and it kind of goes away when you’re not there, especially for [us],” said Ligety.
On a recent Friday night, the day of Yom Kippur, Aburmad sat out a game in observance of the holiest of Jewish holidays, while Ido was in uniform for his game. Both teams won.
Now, after adjusting to their new environments for a little over a month, they continue to work hard both on and off the field, albeit while playing for different teams.
As for their friendship, Ligety said it’s still going strong.
“I moved three times when I was living in Israel. In the end, we will always be friends no matter where we are.”