Cobi Illian brings European style to Stevenson

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LINCOLNSHIRE — There is something recognizable about the way Cobi Illian plays soccer.

“Watch his mannerisms. The way he shelters the ball with his body,” Stevenson coach Mark Schartner said. “It comes from an English style.”

That style — where body position is stressed first before making the correct touch — doesn’t come from watching soccer across the pond. It comes from participating.

Illian, a 5-foot-10, 150-pound Patriots junior, grew up in Cary. But in sixth grade, he moved to Europe with his family. He lived just north of London in a city called St. Albans. There, he played for a local team called Kings Langley. Illian honed his skills on a developmental club team, learning English methodology on the pitch.

“Mostly tactical stuff. They emphasize looking forward, how to look more for dangerous passes to create chances,” Illian said.

Saturday, that European-fueled aggressiveness displayed itself when Stevenson played Warren in a game that was eventually postponed by lightning (no makeup date had been set as of Monday).

Midway through the first half of a scoreless game, Illian was up top as the Patriots regained possession on their side of the field. Junior defender Sam Zwirn passed the ball to senior Cesar Navarro. The striker trapped the ball in space, then stroked a pass up the field toward a streaking Illian. The ball led Illian, who did not break stride as it came to his feet ahead of the Blue Devil defense. With his right foot, he launched a shot over the charging goalkeeper. The ball found the back of the net for a 1-0 Patriots lead.

It was a play that required a multitude of talents all converging at once.

“We worked the day before developing the drill that accented what happened on that play,” Schartner said. “The concentration it takes to have a goalie coming at you at full speed, that’s a kid who has practiced (quite a bit).”

Illian added, “The second the ball is placed through, I knew there was a chance I could get to it. I was planning on putting it over the keeper’s head.”

While Illian learned how to make English-style plays from tireless training and preparation, he did pick up a few tricks by watching. His father, Jeff, played soccer at Carnegie Mellon University and in adult leagues after college. When in England, his parents would occasionally take him and sister Sabrina, a sophomore soccer player at Stevenson, to local pubs to watch the Premier League or the English Championship Division.

He and his schoolmates would argue over which was the better team — Illian prefers Manchester United — and talk about players and strategy.

Since he’s been back in the United States, Illian has noticed a higher level of knowledge about the game. He said his American friends are starting to have the same debates he had in England.

“There’s increased coverage now. You can watch every game now,” Illian said. “That will help give people more exposure to it.”

And a better understanding of Illian’s distinct, English style of soccer.

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