CHESTER, Pa. — Jason Aoyama and Baba Kallie will get one last homecoming in their college careers when they run onto the pitch at Subaru Park this Friday night in the 12th edition of the Army-Navy Cup.
The Eastern Pennsylvania natives, Naval Academy classmates and friends for nearly a decade are looking forward to the trip home but both have one thing on their mind: beating Army.
“Seeing all of our family members back at the game is great, but at the end of the day, our main focus is to make sure we get the three points and obviously beat Army,” said Kallie, who was born in Liberia but moved to the Coatesville area as a kid. “It’s also our last Army-Navy game so that’s a big deal too.”
Kallie and Aoyama met more than eight years ago now as youth soccer players in the area. Kallie started playing the game at age 11 for Spirit United (now FC Delco) and Aoyama at Lower Merion SC practically from the time he started walking. They crossed paths at the Philadelphia Union Academy where fellow Navy senior and captain Zach Wagner, a Medford Lakes, N.J. native, also played. Wagner’s older brother, JD Wagner, captained the Midshipmen last year; Zach is a captain for the team this season.
“Now that we’re all seniors we can show the team how much it means to us,” Aoyoma said of his last Army-Navy Cup. “The gravity of the game just adds so much excitement and it makes it so special getting to play at Subaru Park.”
Aoyama’s return trip to Chester for one last Army-Navy Cup will also mark the end of an impressive run for his family in college soccer. The youngest of four boys, Aoyama was introduced to the game at a very young age by his brothers Julien, Justin and Jansen. Julien and Justin both played at Amherst and are now in medical school in the area (Jefferson and Rutgers) while Jansen played at Colby College and is working in the search engine optimization field in Brooklyn.
All four boys played for Lower Merion SC and were part of the Eastern Pennsylvania Olympic Development Program.
“I remember things about each of their careers; it just gave me a pathway to follow knowing I had older brothers who had already been through it before me,” Aoyama said. “I don’t want to let them down.”
Aoyama, who attended YSC Academy for school but spent his senior year at Harriton High School and finished his youth career with FC Delco, remembers attending the Army-Navy Cup while still in high school.
At the time, he was looking at both Army and Navy as college options.
“No regrets there,” he said of his decision to choose Annapolis over West Point. “At the time in high school I remember watching these guys who were only a couple years older than me representing not just the badge and the school but the country as well. That really struck a cord with me.”
At Navy, Aoyama has pursued a course of study in cyber operations and has already been accepted to an early placement in the nuclear service warfare community post graduation. Kallie, meanwhile will be looking ahead to finishing a degree in history and joining the Marine Corps but right now is fully focused on the task in front of them heading into Friday’s game.
For Kallie, who was born in Liberia and didn’t play the sport until he arrived in the U.S., soccer has opened a pathway he never knew possible. Kallie played for Spirit United/FC Delco, the Union Academy and Penn Fusion in his youth career.
“I’d definitely say I'm just a very lucky kid,” Kallie said. “And soccer has played a massive part of my life in helping me to get a great education but also a great job once I graduate while also serving this amazing country.”
Kallie’s gratitude extends to the coaches and families he said helped him fall in love with the sport and pursue playing it at a high level.
“My siblings were a bit older than me and my parents worked a lot so soccer really kept me busy and helped me make new friends,” Kallie said. “Not just to make new friends but make new families too.”
Some of that extended family will be in attendance Friday night in what promises to be another chapter in a men’s soccer rivalry that dates back to 1938 and a cup that has been played every season at Subaru Park since 2012. It’s consistently one of the largest attended college soccer games each year drawing between 8,000 and 10,000 fans each year.
“Getting to play in the stadium and get the energy from the fans, from our school, it’s amazing,” Kallie said. “It's definitely something that we're grateful for and we definitely look forward to every year but again our focus is getting three points and moving up in the Patriot League standings.”
Army holds the series lead at 5-3-3 but a win would give Kallie, Aoyama and their fellow seniors a second win in three tries. With 7 points in the league standings through four games and ground to make up 3 points would be big for Navy’s bid to repeat as league champions. Army, meanwhile, is at 4 points through five games.
Friday’s game kicks off at 7 p.m. If you can’t make it to Chester, the game will be broadcast live on ESPN .