Brela’s journey with Seton Hall not over just yet
Katherine Cahalin/Staff Photographer
Mateusz Brela did not spend his whole life dreaming of playing soccer in America.
Until he was 17, Brela lived with his family in Poland. During a summer visit in 2009 with his uncle, who lives in New Jersey, Brela attended a Soccer Plus camp in Colgate, New York.
“It was about getting shape, getting to see what American soccer looked like,” Brela said. “No expectations.”
But college coaches were impressed by Brela’s performance at the camp with Siena showing the most interest.
“That’s when the whole idea of me coming to states really began,” he said. “My lifelong dream was just to come here and visit my uncle, and to see all those things you see on TV.”
Brela went back to Poland and finished his junior year before attending St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City for his senior year of high school. While verbally committed to Siena, Brela trained with the Red Bull U18 team.
Siena hesitated to extend a formal letter of intent, but Brela continued to play and was seen by a Seton Hall coach when St. Peter’s Prep played Seton Hall Prep in South Orange.
The Pirates staff followed up with him, saw him play with the Red Bulls and set up a visit. One week later, Brela’s uncle, with whom he had been living with—received an email, it was an offer from Seton Hall.
How quickly Seton Hall made its decision resonated with Brela.
“That was extremely quick,” Brela said. “It was in January of 2011 that we decided that Seton Hall has better soccer program and university as a whole. Everything about it just sounded better.”
“Despite the chance to play semi-pro soccer in Poland, Mateusz has decided to take upon our invitation and combine his chance to get an American university degree and play his favorite sport at a college level,” Yarek Aranowicz, Brela’s uncle, said. “We are extremely proud to have Mateusz as part of our family.”
Brela played 17 games his freshmen year, starting the final four matches of the season, including an enormous upset over the third-best team in the nation at the time, UConn. He was also named a Big East Academic All-Star.
“My freshmen year, there were 10 of us,” Brela said. “We had a big freshmen class. Pretty much, we did everything together—breakfast, practice, lunch, classes, homework, dinner, etc. It was visible on the field, too. It was really important to have all those guys around.”
Coach Gerson Echeverry took over in the spring of 2011 and named Brela, a sophomore at the time, a team captain for the 2012 season.
“He came in in the spring of my freshmen year, and that was a turning point in my soccer career,” Brela said of Echeverry. “He gave me a lot of confidence. It was huge to be named a captain. Coach gave me a lot of confidence—he made me believe that I could do it as a sophomore.”
Brela has anchored the Pirates’ defense as team captain for three years. He said while he’s enjoyed his senior season, it’s been bittersweet.
“Going into the year, I’ve been really excited,” Brela said. “It’s an ongoing excitement with a little bit of sadness. Some of the guys made a funny point: We miss it but we haven’t even left yet.”
Brela said that it’s been tough throughout his career to keep in touch with his mother and two sisters, 24 and 12, back at home.
However, his aunt and uncle have given him great support here in the U.S.
“Mateusz is conscientious and amazing young man,” Yarek said. “…His passion for soccer and his remarkable family values make him an outstanding human being.”
Brela goes back to Poland once a year, and wants to explore options in America and overseas after graduation. He wants to make a living on the pitch.
Seton Hall has had some ups and downs this season, but is looking to make a run in the Big East after upending Georgetown on Oct. 18. Brela, as he always has, will play a huge role in leading the Pirates’ defense the rest of the way.
“I have a good vibe that this is the turning point of our season,” Brela said. “I really hope that this might be the beginning of some Cinderella story.”
Not only is it the beginning of a Cinderella story, it’s also the end of an amazing journey with Seton Hall for Mateusz Brela.
Tom Duffy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.