Sidelined Finnish soccer star still supports team

Matias Karioja is not your typical freshman. The 20-year-old, originally from Oulu, Finland, began his time at Mercyhurst in mid-August with high hopes for a successful season with the men’s soccer team.

These dreams were soon dashed, though, due to unforeseen circumstances outside of the midfielder’s control.

The NCAA Eligibility Center, also known as the clearinghouse and in charge of governing player eligibility, refused to clear Karioja to become eligible to play, a decision that came as a surprise.

“I found out the day before the season started,” Karioja said. “[Head coach Keith Cammidge] was still confident I would be eligible to play but I would have to sit out a few games,”

Before he came to the United States, Karioja had spent a year in the Finnish army, as national service is still compulsory there. He played two games during this time and received travel expenses.

“The clearinghouse said it was because I played two games during a time when I could have attended college. I don’t understand how they can say this when I was doing national service. I had to do it,” Karioja said.

He is clearly very frustrated by this outcome. Any time he mentions not being able to play, he twirls his headphone wire tighter and tighter.

Associate head coach Dale White was also extremely surprised at the decision.

“I was very disappointed with the clearinghouse, especially with the decision coming so close to the start of the season,” said White.

Karioja continues to train and work hard, although he does admit to occasionally suffering from a lack of motivation in practice.

“It can be hard. You train to prepare for a game, whereas I know there’s no way I can play at all this year. The games are the most important thing, but I never considered not training at all this year. I still wanted to be a part of it,” Karioja said.

White was very happy that Karioja would remain a part of the squad.

“To his credit, he came to me soon after I told him and was very keen on training, and he lays the uniforms out before every home game. His attitude toward this really impressed me,” White said.

This is backed up by Karioja’s roommate, Nate Stern, a freshman from Buffalo.

“He was never going to quit. He enjoys soccer too much for that, but I can tell he’s frustrated,” Stern said.

While being interviewed at the Hammermill Library, Karioja was joined by Dale Young, a graduate student from England. Matias continues to spend time with the team and is very comfortable around them, as the two often shared a joke before a serious answer to a question was given.

Karioja also enjoys the international influence on the team, which boasts 14 foreigners and just six Americans.

“It made it a lot easier to settle in, as there were other people in the same boat, miles away from home. There are also no cliques because everyone is in it together,” Karioja said.

Although he has already been through a number of ups and downs since being in America, Karioja doesn’t regret the choice to come here.

“I’m still adapting to everything, but I’ve really enjoyed it here so far. It’s hard not playing soccer, but I’m here to combine that with studying, so at least I’m still getting my education,” Karioja said.