Imanaliev competes with Kyrgyzstan U-16 National Team

Mason sophomore Dezzi Imanaliev trains with the under-16 national soccer team in
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Ali Sami | The Chronicle

From playing on the Mason multipurpose field, all the way to playing in Kyrgyzstan, Dezzi Imanaliev has taken on the challenge of traveling overseas to play for his national team.

Imanaliev was born in Kyrgyzstan and moved to the United States when he was seven years old. He was one of 25 players invited to the Kyrgyz under-16 national soccer team camp. camp. The team’s coach saw his highlight and workout videos from America and extended a camp invitation. 

The national team then flew Imanaliev and his dad to the capital city of Bishkek. The camp lasted for the entire month of August. Imanaliev said that the trip to Bishkek brought out many emotions for him, but the coach’s confidence in him set his mind at ease.

“I was extremely nervous,” Imanaliev said. “But it was a super simple process. [The Kyrgyzstan coach] just texted me through WhatsApp. He asked me to send him a couple of videos of myself playing and he got interested in me.” 

When Imanaliev arrived in Bishkek, he was immersed in a full soccer schedule. There were days when his entire schedule was determined by the team to fit the rigorous training regimen. Imanaliev said the preparation and competitive environment were unlike anything he had experienced. 

“We would wake up at 6:45 AM, eat breakfast, get our phones back after they took it away at night, and then we left for training at 10 AM,” Imanaliev said. “After training, we had our nap time and then prepared for training again from 6 PM to 8 PM.”`

The camp was meant as a tryout for the u16 national team that would compete in international play. The camp culminated in a friendly match with the South Korean u16 team, the third-ranked team in Asia. Imanaliev was subbed in at the 65th minute of the match and played for the duration of the game.

Imanaliev played for Mason’s Junior Varsity Green team, one step below varsity, during his freshman school season. His coaches and teammates stayed in contact with him while he was competing to help inspire him. Imanaliev said that his experience playing for Mason prepared him well for the challenge of playing with the top athletes in his age group in Kyrgyzstan.

“Mason was very involved in this process,” Imanaliev said. “I think the coaching staff is at a high level, and some of my teammates at Mason motivated me to train every day.”

One of Imanaliev’s Mason teammates, Donnie Carmany, said that Imanaliev’s talent and approach to soccer were evident during the season so he is not surprised his talent was recognized overseas.

“He came into freshman season really mature,” Carmany said. “He was like one of the older guys. He came in mature, he knew what to do and how to act.”

The Mason program has been very supportive of Imanaliev participating with his national team. The experience caused him to miss the first month of the scholastic season. Both Mason soccer and the Ohio Soccer Coaches Association released congratulatory statements on social media. Carmany said that Imanaliev’s Mason soccer family is very proud of him and that he was representing the team even if he was on a different continent.

“That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Carmany said. “I’m really happy for him. He has worked a lot to deserve this.”

Imanaliev returned to Mason, Ohio on September 5 and rejoined his Comet teammates. Imanaliev said he is very fortunate to have had the once-in-a-lifetime experience, and he wants to use it as an opportunity to grow as a player and a person.

“It’s cool,” Imanaliev said. “But at the end of the day, you just have to stay humble to yourself and keep the focus on what you’re doing.”