Surrey-raised Juvraj (“Juvy”) Kooner remembers when his dad, who introduced him to soccer, first took him to BC Place to watch David Beckham play with LA Galaxy against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
This event, he explains, was a memorable moment from his childhood that pushed him to pursue soccer.
“Although I was only 5 years old, the competitive environment, and being able to watch professional players play soccer in person sparked an interest in me and pushed me to continue playing soccer in hopes that one day, I would be in their position.”
Now that dream has become a reality, as Juvy has signed a three-year contract with S.C. Braga, a professional soccer team in Portugal.
This is certainly no small feat, and Juvy has been receiving a significant amount of media attention and praise for his accomplishment.
“The amount of love and support I have been receiving through social media has been amazing: the encouragement from people all over has been unexpected, but I am beyond grateful to now have this extensive support system cheering me on throughout my journey.”
The road to reaching this level of success however, has not been easy. The 19-year-old has faced numerous hurdles, including an ACL injury last season.
“At first, this injury affected me negatively and it was difficult not being at the physical level [that] I was before. Over time, this injury allowed me to look at things in a different perspective and throughout my time in rehab, I believe I grew as an athlete in a way [that] I wouldn’t have been able to on the field.”
Like many professional athletes, Juvy says he owes a lot of his success to his community and support systems.
“A lot of the people around me and who I have chosen to surround myself with have always been great role models and have always pushed me to succeed. Playing soccer from such a young age allowed me to develop friendships with many other like-minded players who had the same goals and intentions as me, which allowed me to develop both on and off the field.”
He credits his mentor, Arshdeep Mutti, also known as AM Training who “has helped [him] grow into a well-rounded soccer player and person,”and his uncle, Baddu Saini, who he says has supported his dreams since the beginning.
Juvy’s immediate family has also played a pivotal role in helping him land a professional contract.
“My dad, mom, and grandma have always been there for me unconditionally, and have been an amazing support system for me. Without all of them, I wouldn’t have advanced in soccer and wouldn’t have been able to sign a professional contract.”
However, in order to chase after his dream, Juvy has also spent a lot of time away from home -- an experience he says has shaped him on and off the field.
“Although it’s hard not being around my family at times, I left Surrey when I was 15 and have now adapted to it. I look at this as a great opportunity, as it’s allowing me to progress as an athlete, as well as change my life and the people around me in a positive way.”
Juvy’s accomplishment also shines a light on Surrey and the strength and talent this community holds -- something that is often neglected in favour of less positive headlines.
“Although Surrey has a very strong, close-knit community, many negative events are often seen portrayed in the media and have thus caused others to see our community under a bad light. It’s not often that our community is recognized for the good things we can do and the talent we have in this part of the Lower Mainland.”
Soccer holds a special importance in Surrey, and you don’t need to look further than Newton Athletic Park on any night of the week to witness this.
With this type of enthusiasm and popularity, there is no doubt that Surrey’s soccer community will continue to produce others like Juvy Kooner.
“Although this has been a big win for myself, I believe this has also been a big win for my community and Surrey as a whole, and hopefully allows others to acknowledge the talent coming from Surrey.”