The Israeli Connection

Most teammates have something in common, growing up in the same town, going to the same high school or playing for the same club team, but Yoni Sorokin and Itzik Efraim have something bigger in common: they both served in the Israeli Army.

In Israel, all citizens over the age of 18 are required to serve at least 32 months in the IDF. 

"We had everything from people wanting to do it, people expecting it since they were young, to people who don't want to do it. I didn't want to do it because I just wanted to play soccer," Sorokin said.

Both of them had to find a way to balance soccer and military life, which at times could be a challenging feat to achieve.
"I knew I had to do it, so when I went to the army, I tried to find a way to be in the army and still play soccer. Luckily, I had the opportunity," Sorokin said.
"I was in the fire department, it's a very busy day. I'd wake up early in the morning and go to the station. After a couple hours, I'd go to practice, then I'd go back to the station until late at night and repeat that every day," Efraim added. 
Sorokin says his time in the IDF and here at UCF were more similar than they were different: "It is kind of the same, when you wear the uniform, you're representing something bigger than yourself. You know that when you walk on campus people will recognize you for playing soccer. You have to represent them in the best way possible," he said.
Being in the military forced both of them to grow up faster than the average teenager.
"Being in the army gives you perspective on hard work. People here have school work and combine that with soccer. That's the most stressful thing I have to deal with. I see it as a good thing because I came from that and I can appreciate it. When I was there, I didn't think it was a good experience but now looking back at it, it was a good thing. I learned a lot from it, I met some awesome people and learned a lot about life." Sorokin said. 
Efraim said, "I think it made me more mature, I've met a lot of people my age here and they aren't as mature as me and I think that's the main reason. I've had a lot of responsibilities from a younger age and it helped me develop".
The two are some of the closest on the team and Efraim points to their time in the IDF as the main reason why he and Sorokin are so close: "This is why we are connected more than others here, we are the best friends on the team and I think this is a reason for that," he said.
When talking about Yoni, Itzik's face lit up saying, "We went to high school together, we've known each other since we were kids. He's awesome, he's the one who opened the door for me here because we knew each other before, he's an awesome guy. He said this is an amazing place and Orlando is a great city. He said the team is great and they play more of an Israeli style." 
Both look back on their experiences to help them with problems that may come up as student athletes, "I think it helped me organize my day, I know how to organize everything I have. Being a student athlete is not easy, but it's a lot easier for me because I've experienced higher pressure than this", Efraim said.
"I do look back, I learned many lessons from that experience. Today when I have something hard in life, I look back and remember I was in a worse place. Now it's much easier to deal with life," Sorokin added.

Head coach Scott Calabrese notices the maturity of his two Israeli players on and off the soccer pitch:

"They're very mature. Often times they're very serious. I think when you live in a different culture, with the military they've got a lot more on the line then there would be if you were just a soccer player. That experience lends to them being more disciplined and mature. They're not guys you have to chase down to get things done. All those qualities are what is required to be successful whether that's on the field, in the military or the classroom," Calabrese said.

Calabrese sees the two as mentors and leaders on the team, "It helps the younger players to have an example, they lead the way when it comes to how to take care of their bodies, how to take care of school work, having the right mentality for training. They know when they can have a laugh, they can still connect with the younger players. I think it's important to have those older players who can really be an example. Both of those guys are a great example and they're respected".

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