For some high school seniors, taking a gap year before heading off to college is an opportunity to expand their horizons and experience something new.
New York goalkeeper Jacob Braham chose to go that route, albeit with a slightly different slant: spend a gap year with pro soccer teams.
A 2015 high school graduate, instead of heading to college last fall, Braham has split the past year between DC United’s Academy, and a stint with Portuguese side SC União Torreens.
Recently committed to join UNC Wilmington this fall, Braham has treasured his time in Portugal.
“It’s been a great experience, having to adjust, learn Portuguese, getting used to a new culture, living in another continent by myself has definitely been a transition,” he recently told TopDrawerSoccer. “Football-wise it’s been an amazing experience.”
After spending the remainder of 2015 living in the DC area and competing for the MLS side’s U18 team, Braham was connected with an advisor with contacts in Europe through New York Soccer Club, where he played in high school.
That led to a tryout with SC União Torreens towards the end of January. A club located in Torres Vedras, roughly a 50-minute drive north from Lisbon, the third-division club fields a U19 team in the Portuguese youth top flight.
Braham’s suited up for the youth side since joining in January, generally training twice a day, once with the first team and once the U19 side.
It didn’t take long for him to make a positive impression.
“When I initially came over on trial after the first couple days they offered me a professional contract to play with them, but I turned that down because I wanted to maintain my amateur status and see what happened,” he said.
Only a few weeks remain in Braham’s current European stint. From there, a decision looms. While Braham is open to signing a pro deal and bypassing college, he would rather join a first or second division side rather than sign on with a third division team. Other domestic clubs heavily scout the U19 league, so opportunities could potentially arise when the transfer window opens later in the summer.
College is another option of course, as Braham remains on track to enroll at UNC Wilmington in the fall, if the right offer doesn’t come through.
Regardless of what happens, the experience has been tremendously valuable. Along with being pushed to new levels on the field, Braham’s lived with a few other youth players, learning about other cultures up close.
“My roommate is from Brazil, and there are couple of others in the apartment who are in Africa,” he said. “It’s been an interesting experience learning and adjusting, especially because none of them speak any English. At first it was a little difficult, but it’s been great overall.”
Braham also said he was pursuing a European passport through grandparents who were born in Hungary and Romania, though he’s unsure if it would come through. It could potentially open up doors in other countries.
Even if he ends up at UNC Wilmington in the fall, the goalkeeper knows that the gap year has proved its worth. He’s been through the grinder after experiencing the demanding level of a youth academy in Europe, as he compared every game in Portugal to DC’s most significant rivalry.
“Every one of the matches has been similar to a D.C.-Red Bull match between the academies, where it’s that level of intensity, physicality, that’s definitely one of the things that’s been eye-opening,” Braham said. “The speed of play, train of thought, everything happens a lot faster.”