After a season of starts and stops, Navy rookie Baba Kallie and several of his teammates with local ties will get a homecoming in the Army-Navy Cup, after all, at Subaru Park this afternoon.
Kallie, a former FC Delco and Philadelphia Union Academy forward from Coatesville, had a dream start to his college career this spring when he was named the National Player of the Week by United Soccer Coaches after leading the Midshipmen to a 2-1 win over Colgate.
It was Kallie’s first Patriot League match after a shortened non-conference fall season (they beat Virginia and North Carolina State) and because of cancelations ended up being one of only five games for the spring.
One of those cancelations was the original date of the Army-Navy Cup, which was slated for March 20 but because of Covid-19 protocols was moved to this weekend as a season finale for both teams.
“In the past year, I think we’re blessed that we’ve been able to play,” Kallie said in an interview last month. “We’ve been on campus (since the fall) and we’ve been able to train and play and having the Army Navy game, that’s big time.”
The Liberia-born Kallie uses the word blessed a lot in talking about his journey to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, which was far from anything he could’ve imagined when he was a kid growing up in West Africa.
Though he was no stranger to the sport back home, his first taste of organized soccer came after he joined his father here in the U.S. in 2011. He had just turned 10 and didn’t know a word of English.
“I had no clue what kids were saying,” Kallie said. “Luckily, my grandmother was already here and my cousins were here so I was able to communicate with them.”
Kallie’s mom and two of his siblings at the time were still back in Guinea, where the family had been living after fleeing war-torn Liberia when Kallie was an infant.
“Organized soccer really helped me,” Kallie said. “It helped connect me to a lot of different people who would give me rides to practice and take me places.”
It was on some of those rides early in high school that Kallie first started to hear about the Naval Academy from a parent of a former teammate who is an alum. When head coach Tim O’Donohue and his staff started tracking him, Kallie saw it as an opportunity not only to continue his soccer career at a higher level but to give back to the country that has become his home. He became a U.S. citizen in the fall of 2019.
Today will be his first experience playing in the Army-Navy Cup, which has been played in Chester since 2012.
“Obviously, we want to win but at the end of the day for both teams the goal is to serve our country,” Kallie said. “Regardless of what happens we’re striving for the same thing.”
The many connections and experiences Kallie has had in soccer, first with Spirit United and later with Penn Fusion, FC Delco and the Union Academy will be represented by fans in the stands today at Subaru Park, but he’s also been able to rely on connections he’s made in soccer adjusting to life as a Midshipman during a challenging first year of college.
The Naval Academy roster features Union Academy alums JD Wagner and Zach Wagner from Medford Lakes, N.J., former Union Academy and FC Delco midfielder Jason Aoyama from Narberth, Pa. and a fellow Hill School alum Toni Adewole (Kallie graduated from the school in Pottstown after attending YSC Academy and Twin Valley High School).
“I think it’s awesome that all of us are here because we’re able to help each other,” Kallie said. “JD has been a role model for me and Jason (Aoyama), telling us about the academy prior to coming here and then when we got here, he’s always there to help us. It plays a big role in helping us in difficult times as well.”
Today’s Army-Navy Cup kicks off at 2 p.m. in Chester. It will be broadcast live on ESPN+.