Academy at the Lakes soccer talent represents the nation
By Kyle LoJacono
Academy at the Lakes eighth grader and Wesley Chapel resident Raheem Taylor-Parkes isn’t like most 13 year olds.
His idea of a great day doesn’t include video games, computers or lying around. Taylor-Parkes prefers hot, summer days on the soccer field, pushing his body to its limits to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional player.
The 5-foot-4 forward took a step toward achieving that goal this summer when he was selected as one of 12 players for the U.S. U14 national soccer team. The program is the direct feeder system for the men’s squad that represents the United States in the Olympics and World Cup.
“It was amazing to be picked,” Taylor-Parkes said. “It was very difficult because there were a lot of good players there. I knew I had to play my best to be able to compete.”
Academy athletic director Tom Haslam said Taylor-Parkes is the first Wildcat to be picked for an Olympic development program (OPD).
“This puts him as one of the top players in the nation in his age group,” Haslam said. “It’s really a big thing. … He’s exactly the kind of kid we love having here at the academy. He is a great kid, and it’s really nice to see something like this happen to him.”
Taylor-Parkes tried out for a local ODP team earlier this year and made the final cut. From there he was selected for the state and regional teams before learning in July he was picked for the national squad.
Taylor-Parkes was born near Toronto, Canada, where he first developed a passion for soccer around age 8.
“One day I was just kicking around a soccer ball with one of my friends, and I wanted to sign up after that,” Taylor-Parkes said. “From that day I’ve wanted to play soccer. I want to be a professional. I’m not going to let a little hard work stand in the way.”
Academy boys soccer coach Roland Moldovan said Taylor-Parkes has a focus and desire to get better that he hasn’t seen in his seven years teaching the game.
“He talks like an adult,” Moldovan said. “That’s one of the first things I noticed about him is I could talk to him like an adult and he would understand the concepts. And from there he has always talked about being a professional. That’s his goal and that maturity he has is clear. He wants it, he acts like it, he practices like it and he really behaves like that.
“Of course he’s a natural talent,” Moldovan continued. “He’s so natural that even when he is working hard it looks effortless.”
Moldovan became the Wildcats coach early this year, but he has known Taylor-Parkes for about three years. He has given Taylor-Parkes private training sessions, but has coached against the budding talent in club soccer.
Taylor-Parkes plays with the Brandon Flames, a competitive travel soccer club, while Moldovan was a coach in the Fusion Futbol Club of Tampa Bay in New Tampa and Forest Hills.
Taylor-Parkes is the second player Moldovan has coached that has made an ODP team, following Atsou Ayah who made the U15 squad in 2009.
“When Atsou was picked for the national team I got him and Raheem to train together,” Moldovan said. “I remember one time they were practicing in December and it was raining really hard and it was really cold. I told them let’s go home, and both said ‘no no no coach we’ll be fine.’ They stayed and played for another hour, so Raheem puts in the hard work. ”
Taylor-Parkes came to the academy as a seventh grader after attending John Long Middle the year before.
While he was not born in the United States, Taylor-Parkes can’t stop smiling when talking about the chance to play for a U.S. national team.
“It’s fantastic to be able to represent my country,” Taylor-Parkes said.
Next up for the U14 team is a tournament in San Diego Nov. 23-28, where the national team will play the regional teams from around the country.