Originally published in The Statesman
In soccer, some strikers beat a defense with speed. Some beat a defense with their footwork, while others beat a defense with a powerful shot.
Stony Brook sophomore forward Vince Erdei beats defenses with his wits.
Growing up in Budapest, Hungary, Erdei has been an avid chess player from a young age. He credits much of his soccer prowess to the strategic mindset acquired from chess.
“For me, they say I have vision on the field and I can predict what’s going to happen,” Erdei said. “I think in chess you basically have to do the same thing. You have to predict what is going to happen in the game, so I’m proud that I played chess, and I think it helped me.”
Described as a “cerebral player” by head coach Ryan Anatol, Erdei has taken the America East Conference by storm this season, scoring five goals and tallying three assists in 13 matches.
Last season, Erdei was primarily used as a defensive midfielder for the Seawolves. This season he is playing striker, his natural position, and has formed a potent duo alongside senior forward Martin Giordano.
“I‘m not the kind of striker that’s going to score the biggest goals in the game, but I’m always there,” Erdei said of his strong positional play. “I’m always on the spot, and that’s why I’ve been able to score a lot of goals this season.”
Erdei was not always a soccer player, however. In Hungary, where chess is immensely popular, Erdei played the board game competitively from a very young age. Midway through his childhood, he found that he didn’t have the attention span to play the game for hours at a time.
“I was just the type of person that couldn’t sit in the same spot for hours,” Erdei said. “I decided that I had to quit chess and I had to do something more interesting, so that’s why I started to play soccer. I started late compared with other players.”
After finishing high school, Erdei attended school for one year at Corvinus University at Budapest, while also playing semi-professional soccer for the reserve team of Ferencvárosi Torna Club.
Hungary has no organized collegiate sports association, and Erdei found managing both his academic career and his athletic career overwhelming.
Erdei’s performance at Ferencvárosi caught the eye of Anatol and Stony Brook began the recruitment process.
“We had a chance to see Vince play on video earlier in the year [two years ago],” Anatol said. “That is what first got our attention. I was aware of the club that Vince played for and knew of its reputation for producing players of a high level.”
For Erdei, continuing to live in Hungary would have likely meant he would need to choose one or the other—school or soccer—as he didn’t have the time to do both. After participating in a summer clinic at Stony Brook in June 2014, Erdei was offered an athletic scholarship.
That was an opportunity he could not pass up.
“Here you can do both, and that’s why it was a huge advantage. That’s why I wanted to come here,” Erdei said. “Hungary’s a small country in Europe, and the quality of living isn’t as good there. Over there, everyone dreams about coming to the United States. It’s the American Dream.”
At Stony Brook, Erdei is one of three Hungarians, joined by senior midfielder Alejandro Fritz and sophomore defender Barnabas Mako, on a very diverse roster. The team has nine international players and several more whose parents were not born in the United States.
“I think it’s great that there’s a tendency like this,” Erdei said about the multicultural roster. “We have good connections between the European players, the Americans, the Latinos.”
Erdei is looking to graduate with a double-major in economics and applied mathematics, and he hopes to stay in the United States and pursue a financial career after college.
A key influence and role model for Erdei is his oldest brother. Marton Erdei played tennis at the University of New Orleans ten years ago, so he has personal experience as an international student-athlete. Today, Marton Erdei works as an investment banker on Wall Street and encourages his younger sibling to pursue life in the United States.
“My dream job probably would be the same as what my brother [Marton] does right now,” he said. “He lives in the city; he works for Morgan Stanley.”
Whatever Erdei ends up doing, he would like to pursue it here.
“Hopefully I can stay [in the United States], because I would like to keep this American Dream up,” Erdei added. “I love my country, I miss my family, obviously, and my friends, but this is of bigger importance.”