Year after year, Mike England travels from Wales to visit his grandson, Nigel El-Sokkary. It’s usually for a couple weeks in August, to celebrate El-Sokkary’s birthday.
And each year, England — a former professional soccer player and manager — watches his grandson swiftly navigate the soccer pitch, and marvels at the progress he’s made.
“I remember when he started to play soccer,” said England, now 74. “I tried to emphasize and tried to get across to him that the ball has to become part of him.”
El-Sokkary started playing at 4 years old.
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“I used to say to him when he was a little boy, ‘Nigel, I want to see you kick the ball up (in the air) 100 times without hitting the floor,’ ” England said. “He thought that was very difficult at first.”
Today, the 17-year-old Capital High School senior probably wouldn’t find that quite so taxing.
El-Sokkary, the Cougars’ fleet-footed striker, finished his senior season with 30 goals and 22 assists. He is The News Tribune’s All-Area boys soccer player of the year.
“There was a pedigree, I guess, of some sort,” El-Sokkary said. “Growing up in a soccer family influenced my decision and my preference towards athletics.”
Something like that.
England played professionally as a defender for two teams in the top division of English soccer — the Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham Hotspur — during the 1960s and 70s. He also formerly played for and managed the Welsh national team.
And, for a five-year period in the 1970s, he played for the original Seattle Sounders. That’s somewhere El-Sokkary, who plans to attend the University of Washington in the fall, thinks he might want to end up.
“There’s definitely a history with our family, and I’ve always been a huge fan and supporter of the Seattle Sounders,” El-Sokkary said. “It’s an aspiration of mine to compete at the highest level.”
Just like his grandfather. Though, the two aren’t cut from the same cloth. El-Sokkary is a dangerous scorer; in his day, England was a brutish defender. El-Sokkary said his grandfather would divert the ball a lot when he was younger. Now the two play golf when he visits.
“We had lots of fun,” England said. “I used to say, ‘C’mon, Nigel, let’s see what you can do.’ I’d make it very difficult for him to go past over the years. Now, he’s grown and strong.
“He’s a great athlete, and that’s what I like about watching him play, with the pace that he has and the speed he has.”
El-Sokkary is more quiet and unassuming than England, which tends to work to his advantage.
“He doesn’t have to be noisy and all of that,” England said. “When he gets the ball, he makes his feet do the work.”
If the two played now, England said El-Sokkary would have no trouble weaving around his grandfather — he joked he’d probably have to throw an elbow to try to stop him.
“With his speed, he can be a handful for defenders,” England said. “Defenders, they’re quite comfortable if they’ve got people in front of them. The one thing they fear is pace, is speed. That’s what Nigel has.”
He’s an obvious threat in wide-open space, and can nail long shots effortlessly, but is also efficient with three or four defenders around him.
“In those moments that the team really needed him, he stepped up and made stuff happen,” Capital coach Andrew Lopez said. “That was a staple of his this year. … What an incredible career he’s had in four years with us. We were lucky to have him.”
El-Sokkary finished his high school career with 83 goals, 72 assists — including both goals in Capital’s final game in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament against Glacier Peak.
“He’s done amazing since the first day he stepped on the field for Capital, and never looked back,” Lopez said. “Every year he came back stronger, faster, and has always been a very intelligent player.”
He knows when to take the shot and when to dish the ball.
“He has a really nice long ball that adds into his shot, and he’s unselfish and passes the ball up in good places,” Capital midfielder Scott Penner said.
During Capital’s 10-1 victory over Foss in April, El-Sokkary took a backseat as his teammates stole the show.
“I had multiple opportunities to score, but I would pass it off to the other guys so they could get an opportunity,” El-Sokkary said.
Senior midfielder Ian VanDusen scored a hat trick during that game — El-Sokkary made sure of it. He dribbled the ball downfield past defenders on the outside. El-Sokkary could have scored, but passed it to VanDusen who tapped it in.
“Everybody was just ecstatic about it,” El-Sokkary said. “He had two amazing goals and I was trying to get him that third. It was an incredible experience.”
On multiple occasions, El-Sokkary praised the camaraderie between this year’s squad.
“Capital, we come from an inherently soccer community,” he said. “Our school, almost all of us are soccer fans. It puts into how we play — a sense of pride and a sense of spirit, something we’re really passionate about, something we can get behind.
“It was a privilege to play for this team and represent this school.”
El-Sokkary plans to try out for the Sounders Academy this year. He also wants to play soccer in college, but not as a freshman.
“Right now, I’m on trial at the Sounders Academy for the upcoming year,” he said. “My goal is to attend UW and play for the Academy if it works out. … I think a spell at the Academy would be really beneficial to me.”
Maybe he’ll follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
“That would be quite something,” England said. “When I went over (to the U.S.) originally, I was in Seattle for (five) years playing for the Sounders and enjoyed it very much. That was the beginning of soccer over there — they had Pelé and George Best.
“For me, it’s been wonderful going over year after year and seeing the great improvement and the standard that is so much higher now.”
That’s the standard El-Sokkary is trying to build towards.
“I try to emphasize (to him), when he gets the ball, to go at players and use his pace,” England said. “I think he’s remembered that.”
TNT 2016 All-Area Boys Soccer Team
Player of the year: Nigel El-Sokkary, Capital, sr.
Coach of the year: Jason Johnson, Tahoma
Erik DeAnda, Auburn Mountainview, jr. — Uncanny body control and shot placement allowed the junior to score 26 goals this season for 3A SPSL champions.
Cris Garfias, Tahoma, jr. — So much for Tahoma needing to replace a high-volume goal scorer. Garfias has 28 this season for state semifinal-bound Bears to go with nine assists.
Robert Nurmi, Bellarmine Prep, sr. — There’s plenty of players opposing coaches had to game plan for against the Lions. None more so than Nurmi, who led Bellarmine to state for second straight year.
Brandon Gonzalez, Auburn Riverside, sr. — Ball seems to stick to the foot of Ravens’ scoring leader (15 goals, seven assists). Became school’s all-time leading goal scorer after three years on varsity.
Christian Rotter, Auburn Mountainview, sr. — Very fast. Decided to pass on trying to return to state in track and field and instead led Lions to return trip to state soccer tournament, earning 3A SPSL MVP.
Ray Sigala, Fife, sr. — Versatile midfielder earned 2A SPSL MVP. Led Trojans with 22 goals and 15 assists and to the 2A state tournament for the third straight year and heading to UW with 3.9 GPA.
Brayan Torres, Puyallup, jr. — Coach Matt White said Torres was most creative, technically skilled midfielder in the 4A SPSL South. Was Vikings’ most important player, dominating possessions.
Alex Whiting, Curtis, jr. — One opposing 4A SPSL South coach called Whiting a Cristiano Ronaldo-type player. Led Vikings with 10 goals, 13 assists.
Nick Hall, Thomas Jefferson, sr. — Team leader earned 4A SPSL Northwest defensive player of the year for the second year in a row and led the league champs with nine assists and four goals.
Jack Sluys, Gig Harbor, sr. — When Gig Harbor lost 18 seniors to graduation, Sluys was one of the few returners and more than held down the fort, leading Tides to within game of return trip to state.
Matteo Del Giudice, Olympia, jr. — Bears didn’t have season they were expecting entering season, but Del Giudice was a big bright spot in goal. Had six shutouts and allowed just eight goals.
Forwards — Logan Beachy, Central Kitsap, sr.; Nick Iregui, Charles Wright, jr.; Kyle Rivers, Spanaway Lake, sr.
Midfielders — Ryan Clark, Bellarmine Prep, sr.; Manav Gill, Kentwood, so.; Pablo Ramos, Wilson, jr.; Levi Woolley, Puyallup, sr.
Defenders — Alex Bailey, Tahoma, jr.; Sam Ebner, Puyallup, sr.; Dillon Johnson, Orting, sr.
Goalkeeper — Alek Greenleaf, Wilson, jr.