Man of the Match: A Lovely Finish from the Venezuelan
Issue   |   Fri, 05/24/2013 - 13:19

I wonder how to begin a profile on Alejandro Sucre, one of the twin, 6’5” Venezuelan demigods you’ve surely seen somewhere on campus, without sounding cheesy or like the starry-eyed superfan that, admittedly, I totally am.
I suppose I could begin with the fact that, despite suffering a broken ankle only 10 games into his senior season with a Div. III team, Ale attracted the attention of the Vancouver Whitecaps. I could also talk about all Ale’s done off the field, like The Option and his double-major, and say something about how student-athletes, not just recruited athletes, really do exist at Amherst. Or I could say that in my eyes, Alejandro Sucre is the closest thing Amherst has to a campus celebrity — say, Tim Tebow without the religious bullshit. But no, it seems that the best way to begin is with Lady Gaga.

In the fall of 2011, Ale’s sophomore year, the men’s soccer team played at home against a strong Colby side in a crucial NESCAC battle — or so says the athletic department write-up. Neither team could find the back of the net in 90 minutes of regulation, resulting in two 10-minute halves of overtime. Enter Ale, off the bench for his first minutes of the match. After the first 10-minute period, still no goals. In the second overtime half, with 37 seconds remaining, then-senior Mark Crane ’11 launched a ball up the pitch in what appeared to be a last-ditch effort. Somehow it found the head of Ale — as so many balls would from this moment forward — and he slotted it home, the game-winner and his first goal as a Lord Jeff. The way he threw himself at the ball resulted in all 6’5” of him on his back, with his hands in the air, awaiting the imminent mob of teammates upon him. That night, Lady Gaga’s hit “Alejandro” echoed throughout the socials.

As you might agree, it seems there’s no other Alejandro whom Lady Gaga could have written that song about.

A Venezuelan Abroad

It may come as no great surprise to learn that Ale and his twin were always big. Obviously not the behemoths they are today — how many people that massive can also run an 11:15 two-mile? — but as kids they were big and their love of soccer was even bigger.

After their sophomore year of high school however, when the two made the decision to go study abroad at United World Colleges — prestigious international high schools in 13 countries around the world — it looked as if their beloved sport would have take a backseat to academics and to the ideals of internationalism their schools were founded upon.

Federico ended up in New Mexico, while Ale set off for Wales, and although Ale couldn’t speak highly enough about his two-year experience in Wales, one of the biggest difficulties was that soccer wasn’t a priority.

“Soccer and sports weren’t competitive, and for me that was a big shock and something that was hard for me during my first year,” he said. But his principal helped him find a small, local club that allowed him to train and improve his skills.

Being in Wales proved difficult in other ways too, from little things like the weather and food, to the fact that Federico wasn’t with him.

“It’s hard to explain, but when you have a twin brother you experience your life with your twin,” he said. “We’re very close, we have very similar interests and we’re very competitive. Separating was harder for me than for him, I think.”

Over the summer before his final year in Wales, Ale traveled around the U.S. with his brother for a month participating in college showcase soccer tournaments with the hopes of attracting college coaches. Their skills aside, the news that there were two massive Venezuelans spread quickly, and at the Duke camp an assistant coach of Justin Serpone, the Amherst men’s soccer coach, liked what he saw in the Ale and his brother.

Lord Jeff Fútbol

The transition from Wales to Amherst was, for Ale, far smoother than moving from Venezuela to Wales. Part of that, he explained, was feeling more confident in his English and having his brother with him (on different floors of North during their first year). But the thing that made his transition easiest, he said, was the soccer team.

“Even before classes started, I had my teammates and I knew I could rely on them, and trust them, and that they would become my closest friends at Amherst.”

This camaraderie, perhaps not unusual among sports teams, still reflects Ale’s intense dedication to Amherst soccer.
During his freshman year, when coach Serpone couldn’t yet tell the twins apart, — “No chance,” he said — Ale didn’t see much time, but continued working hard and itching for any opportunity to play.

It was during Ale’s sophomore preseason that everything changed: Serpone decided to give Ale, a lifelong centerback, a run at forward. Immediately he began winning headers and tiring out the back line. Serpone never looked back.

“He’s such a force up there,” Serpone said. “He just wears you down.”

“My mind-set as a soccer player has always been to work as hard as possible,” Ale explained. “I don’t care so much about the statline or the highlights as much as I do about winning the ball in the air and winning the ball back if I lose it.”

This workhorse mentality becomes quickly visible when watching him and his team in a game. The Amherst team has adopted a direct style of play largely due to Ale and his brother’s physical presences. On throw-ins they bomb the ball forward, and often their outside backs will launch the ball in the air to Ale, rather than possessing through the midfield. When Amherst loses possession, it’s terrifying to watch first-hand Ale’s ferocity as he gallops across the backline in pursuit of the ball.

Serpone became visibly defensive when I asked him about his team’s often unglamorous style of play, but given that the team has gone 55-8-10 (.753) over the Sucre twins’ four-year stints, clearly it’s worked. Add back-to-back NESCAC titles and a trip to the Elite 8 this fall and you begin to get a sense of what Ale has contributed to Amherst soccer.

Ale himself amassed 11 goals and nine assists in four years — numbers one can assume would be higher had he not been sidelined so early into his senior season — and as far as I can tell, after every goal Ale ever scored he sprinted just as ferociously toward his bench to celebrate with his teammates; a sign if there ever were of his total dedication to his team.

During Ale’s junior season, he earned All-League and second-team All-New England honors and was named captain for his final season. It was then that the possibility of a professional career beyond Amherst first became possible. But 10 games into this fall season, Ale suffered a fluke injury against Trinity, breaking his ankle and sidelining him for the remainder of the year.

Nonetheless, Ale remained his hardworking self, showing up to practice every day, rehabbing his ankle religiously and even, in the waning moments of the team’s NCAA Elite 8 clash with Williams (that they would end up losing in penalty kicks), begging Serpone to put him in despite his ankle still being unhealed.

“He really showed his maturity this year, as a captain, when he broke his ankle,” Serpone said. “It was a true test.”

For most Div. III athletes, their last game as a senior, no matter how tragic or successful, marks the end of an athletic career. There are the exceptions, and certainly you hear on ESPN about those amazing stories of DIII athletes making it in the pros. Ale might be one of those stories.

Despite his injury, assistant coach and scout at the Vancouver Whitecaps Jake DeClute liked Ale because of his rare combination of size and skill. For someone as massive as he is, Ale’s touch is definitively Latin American, meaning he is smooth and seems to coexist more naturally with the ball than any American ever will.

And so, the Whitecaps selected Alejandro Sucre with the 67th pick in the Supplemental Draft. This doesn’t mean that Ale has signed a contract; simply that he’s guaranteed a trial with the club this January. Nonetheless, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Amherst striker.

“I had no clue that the draft was evening happening, but then I’m sitting in my room after class and get a call from Coach Serpone that Vancouver just drafted me,” Ale said, glowing as he talked. “It’s been unbelievable, man. Just a dream come true.”

Twinning Off the Pitch

Ale’s experience at Amherst, really, spans far wider than the sidelines of Hitchcock Field. A double-major in Economics and Political Science, Ale talked keenly about his interest in the overlap between his two majors.

“I find the theory behind both majors interesting, but that’s not what I’m passionate about. What I like most is the international relations aspect,” he explained, understandably, given he’s only 22 and has studied on three different continents.

Ale’s advisor, Economics Professor Frank Westhoff, couldn’t speak highly enough about his insatiable curiosity for economics.

“He’s a delight to have in class and incredibly engaged,” Professor Westoff said. “Not to mention how hard he works. To me he personifies what it means to be an Amherst student because of how multidimensional he is.”

Given Ale’s skill and dedication to soccer, it seems all the more impressive that he’s still engaged himself so intensely in other parts of Amherst. Perhaps too often Amherst athletes come across as only athletes, but Ale’s four years here can be considered a success even if you somehow never knew he played soccer. He’s been an R.C., run The Option Bookstore with his brother, participated in C.C.E. events like Friends of Jaclyn, and even started a Dominos club.

But one of the most important elements of his four years at Amherst has, of course, been the fact that he’s experienced the Fairest College with Federico.

“It’s been amazing, having someone who knows everything about your life here. There’s no one who understands my life better than my brother, and sometimes we don’t even need any words to communicate things to each other” Ale said. “It’s hard to explain.”

Federico echoed the importance of having one another at Amherst.

“We’re competitive, so being here together has raised the bar for both of us. But since we’ve had such similar experiences, we have such great chemistry. And that’s been a great thing for the team, for projects we’ve done,” Fede said.

Despite their similarities, the two have managed to branch out from one another and do different things. Federico went abroad last spring to Paris and is majoring in political science and French, while Ale stayed on campus and has focused mostly on economics (only adding the political science double major this year).

When asked about what Amherst has taught him, Ale expressed his growing sense of duty toward Venezuela.

“You know, that’s my country. And I think there’s a lot to be done, and I really believe that people like me who’ve had the privilege to go to an institution like Amherst have a duty to go back and do good,” he explained, speaking as eloquently and knowledgeably about Venezuela’s myriad problems as he did about soccer tactics and economics.

For now, though, Ale’s got one thing on his mind, and that’s professional soccer.

Vancouver, France & Beyond
As seniors road-trip to Myrtle Beach and slog their way back to Amherst for graduation weekend, Ale will be in France, trying out with several different professional clubs. He’ll need to play as much as he can, and at as high a level as he can, until his trial with Vancouver in January. Given that he hasn’t played since the match in which he broke his ankle on Oct. 9, and the fact that he’ll be competing with the top Div. I and international players, there’s no denying the fact that making the Whitecaps squad will be a tall task. But if one thing’s for certain, it’s that he’s got the right attitude and necessary support around him. And given that Ale’s played only three years of striker, one has to believe (as he does) that the sky’s the limit.

Ale will be back at Amherst to celebrate his graduation with his brother, family and friends. But then he’ll be right back over to France, pursing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I received an email a few days ago from Ale, in which he told me he felt he hadn’t adequately expressed how grateful he was for everyone around him. (Going back through notes and audio recordings, this became quickly false.) Perhaps it was the fact that he was arriving in France that day for trials with Lille and Auxerre that he felt especially grateful of his parents and siblings; all his coaches in Venezuela, Wales and at Amherst; and his teammates and friends; or that graduating from Amherst had finally begun to sink in as he sat in an airport somewhere.

So keep your eyes and ears out for Ale this summer and next fall, and don’t get confused if you think you see him on campus, because that’s actually Fede, working as a Green Dean in the Admissions Office. And maybe follow him on Twitter, @AleJSucre, because 88 followers is slim, especially for a professional footballer.