“I was just about to get on a plane for California so I could hang out with my brother over spring break,” said Saarna.
“My phone rings, I don’t recognize the number so I let it go to my voicemail. When I check it I hear this guys voice and he says ‘Kalev, this is Kerry Zavagnin (the Wizards assistant coach), we’d like you to come out to a few practices on the reserve squad.’ I couldn’t believe it. I got this huge smile and was so excited. Man, it was so awesome.”
The road to the Wizards training facility was a long one. Saarna first cut his teeth on the choppy rough fields of Myanmar.
“My parents did mission work in Myanmar when I was a little kid,” said Saarna.
“That’s where I really started playing soccer all the time. Where I was in Myanmar I had the chance to play with kids from all over. This helped me to get a little bit of different, quicker pace of play than the soccer that is played here in America.”
The game of finesse didn’t serve Saarna quite as well when he and his family returned to the Kansas City area.
“My first year in high school, I got absolutely crushed when I was on the ball,” said Saarna.
“I had to get my strength up, I had to become a lot quicker in my off the ball movement. American soccer is a lot more physical; you don’t get past American players with fancy footwork. You have to get past them with fancy footwork, a quick burst of speed, and a little bump as well.”
With time and effort Saarna began to earn himself a reputation amongst the soccer players of Kansas City, KS. Saarna played soccer on with a Latino club representing various Mexican restaurants in Wyandotte County. During one tournament Saarna ran into a club named Legacy FC and on it he saw a style of play he knew from his youth.
“Here’s all these Asian and African guys playing one touch and just really attractive beautiful soccer,” said Saarna.
“I managed to work my way on to that team, where I got to know a couple guys from Park who played for fun on that team. They told me I had to come play with them up at Park, I meet with Effrem and was able to make the team.”
At Park University Saarna was introduced to a strict work ethic as well as beautiful soccer. Two a day practices, loads and loads of running, hard-hitting games against top flight competition. It was at Park that Saarna developed an even higher work ethic.
“Before I came to Park I tried out with the Wizards,” said Saarna.
“They told me I needed to go play college and see if I had the commitment to stick with college before I made a commitment professionally. I’m so glad I did. Park made me realize I needed to bulk up, learn how to take a high speed hit, move more off the ball. Playing at Park made me better player and I think it came through at the Wizards tryout this year.”
Though the tryout is over Saarna knows that the real test is just beginning. During the tryout Saarna played with other hopefuls, in the practices he will play with seasoned professionals who have already made the squad. If he’s good enough he can continue with the reserve squad, hoping for a spot in a game day lineup. If he’s not then its back into the realm of could have been.
“I’m not worried,” said Saarna.
“If I am good enough to stay then that’s awesome, I’ll be proud of my achievement with the Wizards. If I get cut then hopefully I can come back to Park and help this program win games, tournaments, and national championships, then I will be happy with my achievements at Park. My goal is to just be the best player that I can be.”
Saarna earns trial with Wizards Reserve Squad. (2)