BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, May 11, 2011
With the Vysshaya Liga season in Tajikistan is now underway, American winger Troy Ready is settling in at FK Vakhsh where he has returned to playing competitively after a three year absence.
Ready, 30, has struggled with injuries most of his career and he last played with the USL version of the Portland Timber s in 2008. Following that season he took his life in another direction and became involved with humanitarian efforts.
This change life direction took Ready and his wife to Tajikistan to work with Millennium Relief and Development Services.
While there, however, Ready became involved with the local club FK Vakhsh located in the small city of Qurghonteppa. who play in the top league in Tajikistan. Last year he was going to play for Vakhsh but he never saw the field due to injuries and the need to return to the United States for the birth of his son.
This season, however, has seen Ready been part of Vakhsh from the start of the season and he has been a regular contributor off the bench on the left wing.
"To be honest, being on the field again is exhausting," Ready told YA from Qurghonteppa, Tajikistan. "Looking back 10 years, I remember playing three 90-minute games in three days. Now it takes me about three days to recover after playing just 25 minutes. That said, there is nothing like playing, and I'm more aware than ever that every day of being able to do this is a gift."
Being always from the game for a number of years and trying to revive a playing career has changed Ready's perspective on the game and what it takes to contribute at a high level.
"I used to be amazed by the young players' ability to compete among the best leagues in the world,' Ready discussed. "Now, it's the Ryan Giggs' of the world that blow me away. How can a player of 37 years old at one of the best teams in the world remain fast enough, fit enough, and sharp enough year after year to hold a position and have impact? Truly impressive."
FK Vakhsh is a significantly different team than the one he trained with last year. In the 2010 season, Vakhsh finished in third place in the Vysshaya with 56 points in 32 games.
During the offseason, however, many of Vakhsh's players moved to different clubs which has left head coach Aslidin Khabibulloev with a young group of players to start this season.
The first three games of the season saw the young Vakhsh team struggle as they became more familiar with each other. They lost the first three games by one goal a piece but rebounded in the fourth game with a 3-0 road win over Shodmon Gissar.
This past week, Vakhsh traveled to take on defending champion Istiqlol who are widely considered to be the best team in Tajikistan. Vakhsh lost but Ready is confident the team is playing well and will begin to climb the Vysshaya standings.
"The team is competing well, but currently not getting results," Ready stated. "Our best performance was yesterday against league leaders FC Istiqlol, taking the lead in the first half but eventually loosing the match. We are a much younger team than last year, having lost several players to different clubs. This has [given the] opportunity for new players to get their long awaited chance but also meant taking more time for the team to find its form. I trust that as we continue improving week in and week out, the results will take care of themselves."
Ready is the first American to play in Tajikistan's Vysshaya Liga and his presence in the league has seen very interesting reactions from the fans who are often in disbelief when he gets announced. There are very few Americans living in the country but for one to be playing in the league, it often leads to interesting reactions.
"It's novel enough for the Tajiks' to meet an American, let alone one who is playing in their professional league," Ready explained with amusement. "It always makes for an amusing entrance onto the field. Every time I'm announced over the loud speaker, ‘Troy Ready from the USA,' the crowd gasps."
"The last game it was especially notable," he added. "I remember thinking to myself, ‘oh great, all eyes are on me now.' I immediately deflated all of the hype by [mis-hitting] my first touch straight out of bounds! ‘Way to go, Troy,' I said while laughing to myself."
In addition to helping Vakhsh on the field, Ready has taken an expanded role within the team where he almost serving as a coach. Ready has spent time coaching in the United States in recent years and he enjoys bringing his American approach to Tajikistan and youth development is a particular area he is interested in.
"Aside from playing, I am also becoming more and more involved coaching within the club," Ready said of his role within the club. "Every other week, I have been meeting with the head coach, specifically learning ‘soccer language,' and then running training sessions with the youth teams. This has been both an energizing and frustrating experience. I am very much enjoying being around the kids, giving instruction and encouragement. It's frustrating, however, in that my Tajik language still has a long way to go."
As the season progresses, Ready will be increasing his coaching presence as he will begin coaching not just the youth players but also the senior team of Vakhsh where he will work directly with Khabibulloev.
"In the coming weeks, I am going to begin conducting trainings for the older teams and the professional team," Ready divulged. "The balance of playing and also focusing on growing in my coaching abilities has been a perfect fit."
Most importantly to Ready, he is very happy with how his soccer career at Vakhsh has helped him to raise awareness with his work with Millennium. The nature of his visa does not allow him to be paid by Vakhsh, but the rewards of playing for Vakhsh have been significant.
Ready has seen cooperation for his humanitarian efforts not just with FK Vakhsh but also with the Tajik Federation. One of the key aspects of his Millennium work is to help provide young children in Qurghonteppa with activities and his soccer career has helped that immensely.
"The platform of playing and coaching is opening up new opportunities for my other work at Millennium Development Partners," Ready concluded. "Aside from the continuing competitions organized through our organization, we are also currently in dialogue with the Tajik Football Federation about partnering our region toward the further development of youth coaches. These increasing connections and opportunities are only breeding further excitement for the trajectory of what the future may hold."