Senior provides goals, leadership for surging soccer team
To senior forward Afrim Latifi, soccer is not just a hobby. It’s also a way of life for him, and his true passion.
Since his freshman year at Gannon, Latifi has been netting goal after goal. The four-year starter has 13 of them this year.
He is tied for sixth all time on Gannon’s scoring list with 42 career goals.
Despite a solid performance last year, Gannon was not in contention for a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoff berth.
Nonetheless, Latifi still managed to score eight goals for the 2009 campaign.
However, this year is a different story. It’s been arguably his best year to date, and his team, ranked No. 12 in the nation, is sitting with an 11-4 record and in good position to make a deep run in the postseason.
He has helped lead the Knights to a No. 2 rank in the latest NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional poll.
Assistant men’s coach Colin Petersen said improved chemistry has been integral to Latifi’s success.
“There’s a bit of a different dynamic around the team this year,” he said. “A lot of the players that play around him complement him.”
Latifi’s 13 goals this season ties his single-season high which he set his sophomore year.
He isn’t only a goal scorer as the senior has no problem passing ball – Latifi leads the team in assists with five.
When Latifi first immigrated to the states in 1999 from Kosovo, he began playing soccer right away.
Coincidentally, Petersen was the one who coached him in youth soccer when he first came to Erie, Pa. and played for the Erie Admirals soccer club.
“His first year, he couldn’t even speak English,” Petersen said. “I coached him and I knew right away that he had a natural instinct and that he was going to be pretty good.”
Latifi later attended Cathedral Preparatory School, where he was a standout player for the Ramblers.
He had the opportunity to play for a larger school, but he said he chose Gannon’s soccer program because he could contribute right away as a freshman.
“I got the opportunity to work hard and continue that drive,” he said.
That proved to be a success as Latifi had one of the most memorable freshman seasons in the program’s history. He started 15 games out of the 17 he played in that year.
Additionally, he totaled eight goals, five of which were game winners.
To top off a succesful freshman season, he was named the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference freshman of the year.
That year, his team won the GLIAC championship against Northwood in a game which he scored the game winner, a moment that he said was his best memory from his career at Gannon.
Additionally, one of the other reasons that made him decide to attend Gannon was that he followed the Knights closely while he was growing up.
“I’ve been watching Gannon play throughout my career as a developing player,” he said. “After talking to a couple of the coaches, I thought Gannon would fit perfect.”
Latifi said that coach Rob van Rheenen has also been integral in his development as a player.
“I’ve been priviledged to have been around him for the past four years and throughout my childhood,” he said. “I’ve known Rob since I moved to the states.”
After his career, Latifi said soccer will always be a part of him.
“No matter what, you can’t get away from the game,” he said. “It’s still inside you.”
Despite suffering a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Urbana University Tuesday, Latifi and his Knights look to bounce back strong Friday as they host Millersville University at Gannon University Field at 3 p.m.
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