After three seasons with the LMU men’s soccer team, forward Francis Avoce has signed a contract with Ayia Napa FC, a professional soccer club in Cyprus. Ayia Napa announced the signing on Thursday.
Although Avoce has long aspired to play professionally, this isn’t the route he expected to take to get there. He hoped to go pro straight out of high school and join his hometown team, Sacramento Republic FC, through their development academy. But when he realized he wasn’t ready for the professional game yet, he shifted his focus to college and liked what LMU offered.
“I said, ‘Ok, I’ll go to LMU, get a degree and try to go pro after my college career,’” he recalled.
After three seasons with the Lions, which included a 2019 NCAA Tournament appearance, Avoce planned to play one more year of college soccer, graduate this coming December and then turn pro. But when the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the season indefinitely, his plans changed once again. The boundaries of his scholarship would have made it difficult to play in a spring season, and he knew the clock was ticking on the start of his pro career.
“People are going to ask, ‘Well, if this guy is so good and he's good enough to be a pro, why hasn't anyone, you know, made a move? And he's already 22, 23...’” he explained. “So I pretty much told myself I have six months to become a pro.”
Avoce got a lucky break when two of his friends who are currently pro players connected him with an agent who happens to know Manuele Blasi, a former player and one of Ayia Napa’s coaches. The agent recommended Avoce to Blasi, who was impressed and offered Avoce a contract.
“I had like a week to make up my mind,” Avoce said. “But it really wasn't a tough decision for me. My mom was on board with it. My family was on board with it.”
The only difficulty for Avoce was making sure he finished his degree in entrepreneurship. Through an arrangement with LMU head coach Paul Krumpe, Avoce will remain on scholarship with the school through the end of the fall semester and be able to complete his college education virtually.
Avoce has already settled into Cyprus and his new team. Prior to signing, he knew almost nothing about Cyprus, nor the club. Furthermore, Ayia Napa’s coaching staff speaks Italian, a language he does not know. He has navigated these fronts by exploring the city, going to the beach and communicating through a teammate who speaks both Italian and French, which Avoce is fluent in.
Avoce has played in one league match in the Cypriot Second Division thus far, a 1-1 draw with Othellos. He said that he enjoyed the atmosphere and had fun, and that he appreciates his teammates’ competitiveness.
“To be able to look to my right and to my left in the huddle and in the locker room and know that everyone wants [to succeed] as bad as I do and everyone's putting in the exact same amount of work as I do is very motivating,” he said. “They leave it all out there. And that's how I play. And I put in a lot of extra work. So it pushes me to get a lot better.”
His professional debut means the end of his LMU career, during which he put up six goals and three assists during his three years as a Lion. He says that the realities of not being in college anymore haven’t fully sunk in yet.
“I'm the type of person that likes to experience things when I'm in the moment because I know they're fleeting, so I experienced everything college has to offer,” he said. “I went to parties, I went to games, I scrambled for tests. I made a lot of friends. So I had a dope all-around college experience. I'm gonna miss it, of course.”
At the same time, he acknowledges that his departure is made easier by the fact that he’s doing what he loves and wouldn’t want to be doing anything different.
“This is something I want to do for the next 15 years of my life,” he said. “I'm just getting started and the work's only begun. I haven't accomplished anything yet, in my mind. I'm still so motivated to get better every day. So, I'm excited for that.”