Three months ago, Gabriel Ndiaye was not in the United States. He was back home, in Gambia, a West African country, getting ready to move across the Atlantic Ocean for college.
Now, he is the most prolific goal-scorer in the country for the second-ranked National Junior College Athletic Association Division III men’s soccer team heading into postseason play. Ndiaye’s Montgomery College (19-1) squad earned a first-round bye in the Region XX tournament (hosted by Prince George’s Community College) and is scheduled to play in the semifinal round Thursday. The national tournament is scheduled for Nov. 14-17 at Herkimer County Community College in New York.
“This is why we play this game,” Raptors second-year coach Pedro Braz said. “We play to go to the postseason and make a run. Last year was a surprise, but this year we have a target on us being the No. 2 team in the country. Opponents expect us to be good we expect it and [Ndiaye] is one of the reasons why.”
Ndiaye came to Montgomery College, admittedly, very raw on the soccer field. He grew up playing unorganized soccer from a very young age. So, after enrolling at Montgomery College, he attended the Raptors’ open tryout sessions and immediately impressed the coaching staff.
“The first thing we noticed is he was a very talented natural goal scorer,” Braz said. “But he just didn’t have a lot of experience playing in an organized setting. He played a lot of street soccer back home and he struggled at the beginning and was a reserve, but now that he understands, he’s just doing what he is doing, which is score.”
Ndiaye, who appeared soft-spoken and thoughtful during Monday’s practice, deflected the praise to his teammates. He’s made 15 starts and appeared in 19 games this fall.
“I owe it all to them and coach because they make sure I’m in the right place and their skills are amazing. I mean, Nick Castro has assisted on half of my goals,” Ndiaye said. “The atmosphere is just amazing here and we have a lot of diverse cultures, but we all hang out, call each other and stay together as a team.”
The 20-year-old freshman, who lives in Silver Spring, has been enjoying his time immersing himself in American culture. His favorite thing is all of the fast food establishments.
“The food is the best here,” Ndiaye said. “McDonalds, Chipotle, Burger King — I try everything.”
Ndiaye, who is studying business and economics, moved to the United States primarily for education, but said he couldn’t give up his favorite sport.
“It was a little tough to move, but the education system is so much better here than back home,” he said. “I’ve loved playing soccer since I was little — you ask for soccer balls for Christmas every year back home — but the education is my first goal.
Montgomery College is averaging 6.2 goals per game with a .729 shot percentage while allowing just 0.9 goals per game. The Raptors, who don’t feature much height, are extremely technical, focused on ball control and make quick passes and swift movements.
“We don’t like the ball in the air a lot,” Braz said with a laugh and smile.
Sophomore center back and Sherwood graduate Sergio Navarrete agreed.
“It’s a lot of team play. The line between starters and the reserves is becoming more and more blurred,” he said. “The level of play is great.”