A little over two years ago, if you told Nick Alers he would be a member of the Under-17 Costa Rican national soccer team, he wouldn’t have believed you. At that time, Alers lived in the United States, spoke very little Spanish and wasn’t a Costa Rican citizen.
But in the last two years, a lot of things have changed.
Alers, who recently returned from a 10-day trip to Peru and Colombia with the U-17 Costa Rican national team, is currently one of 25 players training and playing with the team. Of the 25 players on the team, a roster of 21 will be selected to represent Costa Rica in the U-17 International Football Federation (FIFA) World Cup in Nigeria from Oct. 24 to Nov. 15.
“We took 20 players to Peru and Colombia,” Alers said. “I was included in the 20, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am going to make the roster for Nigeria.
I’m basically just doing the best I can every day in every practice to give myself the best opportunity to make the World Cup roster.”
If Alers is selected to represent Costa Rica, it will cap an interesting turn of events for him and his family, who in the summer of 2007, were still living in Potomac, in the U.S. state of Maryland, where he and his three brothers had spent their entire lives.
“It happened pretty quickly,” Alers said. “My parents brought up the idea of moving here and, once it was decided, we were here in about two weeks to make it here before the start of school.”
Jorge Alers, Nick’s father, was born in Costa Rica, but he spent much of his youth in Colorado, where he earned U.S. dual citizenship.
About 20 years ago, Jorge’s parents, both Costa Rican, moved back to Costa Rica while Jorge stayed behind in Potomac, in the WashingtonD.C. area, to raise his family. A little over two years ago, the family began to consider the idea of moving to Costa Rica.
“We asked the boys if they would be prepared to move if we decided to, and the family consensus was that it would be a fun and interesting experience,” Jorge said. “We made the decision for a whole series of reasons, including my family ties and because we visited often. … Though when we first arrived, I don’t think they were quite prepared to have to live in a place where English wasn’t the language spoken and everything else that comes with living in Costa Rica versus the U.S.”
For 17-year-old Nick, the oldest of the four brothers, the transition was made easier by his involvement in soccer.
In the D.C. area, Alers grew up playing soccer and was a member of the Pachuca FC, USA, club team and a participant in the Olympic Development Program (ODP) in the northeast region of the U.S. Upon arrival in Costa Rica, Alers immediately joined a club team and caught the eye of several coaches.
In a fortuitous coincidence, the U.S. Under-18 national team visited Costa Rica in the spring of this year for a series of games. Alers, who was known to the U.S. team through his participation in ODP, was asked to play with the U-18 team in a game against the Costa Rica U-17 team. During the game, the coach of the Costa Rican team, Juan Diego Quesada, was informed that Alers, because of his father’s background, had obtained Costa Rican citizenship.
“I was told he had Tico citizenship and his play really impressed me,” Quesada said.
“We asked him to come train with us, and he has continued to impress. He knows the game well, has a great attitude, great ability, great behavior and great vision. He has all the tools of an excellent player.”
Alers began practicing with U-17 Costa Rican national team in May, a month after they qualified for the U-17 FIFA World Cup in Nigeria. Alers trained with the team throughout the summer and continued to impress coach Quesada.
In August, the number of players on the roster was whittled down to 25, with Alers remaining in the group. Later that month a group of 20 members of the team went on a 10-day, four-game trip to Peru and Colombia. Although the Tico team didn’t fare so well in the competition, Quesada said Alers played well in his roles as both a center and left back.
The U-17 World Cup roster of 21 will be announced in the next few weeks. Whether Alers will be included in the Nigeria-bound group has yet to be determined, though Quesada continues to offer praise for Alers’ play.
“It is still very early to decide,” Quesada said. “But Nick has put himself in a good position to be a member of team in Nigeria. He has all the qualities we are looking for in a player.”
Although the idea of being a member of the U-17 World Cup team is a goal for Ayers, his top priority remains education. Ayers is just beginning his senior year at CountryDay School in Escazú. He said he plans to return to the U.S. after graduation to attend university and play soccer at that level. Ayers said Yale, Princeton, Colgate, WakeForest and Denver universities are possible options.
Regardless of how it all turns out, Ayers is happy to have this unique experience.
“The chance to play with the national team has been like a dream come true,” Ayers said. “I get to practice every day with great players and coaches and am getting opportunities I never imagined. Hopefully, I’ll get to top it all off with a trip to the World Cup in October.”