- By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
NORWALK — Svet Kozak took quite a circuitous route to get to where he is today.
Many people remember Kozak as the junior goaltender who backstopped the Norwalk High boys soccer team to the Class LL state championship back in 2012 but ever since then he’s had his fair share of ups and downs on his own life’s path.
Kozak is better for the experiences, however, and now his path has led him to Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he recently signed a letter of intent to play for one of the top men’s junior college soccer programs in the tri-state area, if not the entire country.
“I feel everything is working out for the best,” the 19-year-old, Ukranian-born Kozak said. “(Everything I’ve been through) definitely changed the way I look at things. The way I see the world now is completely different.”
In his short life, Kozak has been through his fair share of grown-up experiences: leaving Norwalk High before graduating to pursue a pro career, suffering a significant injury setback, agreeing to become an assistant high school coach and now signing with a team that could be a springboard to bigger and better things.
First off, the good news is that Kozak will be the new backstop for Monroe, which does a good job of getting its players looks from major college programs.
Kozak said his main focus is giving the program and head coach Marcus DiBernardo all he has for the next two seasons. He’ll compete for the top spot right off the bat but nothing will be given to him, and that’s the way he likes it.
“It’s a good fit,” he said. “It’s a great step to get my game back on track.”
This past summer while practice training with the New York Rebels reserve second team of the United Soccer League (USL), Kozak dealt with an MCL strain and a torn muscle in his right knee that set him back several weeks. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because had he not been injured, he would’ve headed back to Poland to test the pro waters yet again.
His first venture overseas to become a professional soccer player in Europe didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. After helping the Bears win their first state championship since 1966, Kozak left Norwalk High prematurely to see if he could make it as a pro.
Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton didn’t want him to leave.
“To be honest, I tried to talk him into graduating high school first,” he said. “Svet was a great student with a 3.6 cumulative GPA and he was on the right path to graduate with high honors. I thought the opportunity would be there for him to go to college. Even though I wanted him to stay, I understood the lure for him to go over there.”
Kozak trained with professionals in Poland but never signed a contract. Had he signed, he wouldn’t be able to play collegiate soccer and the chance to play at Monroe would’ve gone by the boards.
As it turned out, though, the experience made him a better goalie in the long run.
“I got to see firsthand the level of soccer in Europe and what I needed to work on and improve,” he said. “I’ll bring that to Monroe and wherever I go on after that.”
Kozak was rehabbing from his knee injury around Norwalk late last summer when he ran into Laughton just before preseason practice. Since he was going to be in Norwalk, Laughton asked if he would be interested in being the team’s goalkeeper coach and Kozak jumped at the chance.
Kozak had the opportunity to work with his former understudy, senior Tyler Dalton, and he was instrumental in taking Dalton to the next level. After the season, Dalton earned all-state recognition, the first goalie in the program’s rich soccer history to earn such a distinction.
“He was able to bring a level of professionalism back here,” Laughton said. “I think Svet did a great job not only with Tyler but with all of our goalies.”