The 4:30 a.m. alarm clocks start ringing and senior Arjin Claire and his dad, George Claire, wake up to watch the Liverpool F.C. soccer game in England — eight hours ahead of their time zone.
Arjin’s interest for the game developed early on while watching his dad play. His parents signed him up in a local recreational soccer league when he was 5. After that, Arjin always had a ball by his feet and wanted to practice whenever and wherever he could. He and his dad even set up miniature goals in their house where his father would teach him how to shoot properly.
Arjin’s work ethic and dedication made him improve faster than his recreational teammates and convinced his dad it was time for a change.
“I wouldn’t say the rec league was becoming too easy for him, but it definitely wasn’t challenging enough,” George Claire said.
That’s when the Claires reached out to San Juan Soccer Club, a competitive team in Sacramento.
To test and assess his skills, San Juan invited 7-year-old Arjin to guest play for them in a tournament in Danville.
“I got subbed in and immediately scored off a volley. That moment also happens to be my earliest memory of playing competitive soccer,” Arjin said.
He joined the team shortly thereafter and continued to play for San Juan for six years as a midfielder before transferring to East Sacramento Soccer Club, where he played four years.
“Transitioning from rec to comp, it was like graduating from little kid’s soccer to big kid’s soccer,” Arjin said.
While Arjin has been playing soccer since lower school, he improved the most as a high schooler.
He’s always been one of the smallest players on his team, but his physical growth and muscular development during his sophomore year made him feel more comfortable on the field.
“I’m still one of the smallest on the field, but I’m at an age where the size difference diminishes and is overshadowed by skill,” Arjin said.
All was going well for Arjin — he was getting stronger and faster by practicing with his East Sac team. Then the pandemic hit, and things got crazy.
His club practices transferred over to Zoom, led by the head coach: his own dad, George Claire.
Arjin would set up his phone at an angle and practice drills for 1 ½ hours, three days a week.
He was not a fan of Zoom soccer.
“The best part about soccer practice is messing around and having fun with your teammates. Not having that sense of chemistry made it difficult for the team to bond,” Arjin said.
After practicing over Zoom for the summer of 2020, Arjin’s East Sacramento team collapsed.
The team consisted mostly of seniors who were done with soccer and ready to go to college. The lack of team spirit also discouraged players and made them quit.
However, Arjin was in luck. The end of his club team lined up perfectly with the beginning of high school soccer.
Country Day practices three times a week and Arjin uses them as his main soccer training and does weight training on his own.
Senior year has bombarded him with work and college applications, so practicing his skills has been difficult.
Still, Arjin finished the season first in scoring of all California public and private high schools with 37 goals.
For Arjin, club soccer and high school soccer are two different worlds.
All the players on his club team had to make tryouts, meaning they are all highly skilled.
“There is an unspoken bond between my teammates. Since we’ve all played soccer for a long time, we have an automatic understanding of the ins and outs of the game,” Arjin said.
Country Day’s high school team has some skilled players, but there are also people who have never played soccer in their lives.
As a captain of the team with over a decade of experience, it’s his job to mentor the newer players.
“I love helping out my teammates when they come up to me at the end of the game with questions on how they can improve,” Arjin said. “I feel like it’s my duty to pass on the knowledge I’ve learned.”
Senior defender Ethan Monasa was teammates with Arjin on the East Sacramento team and plays with him on the high school team.
Monasa praised Arjin’s soccer IQ and vision for the game.
“Arjin sees the field well, and he has perfect timing. He knows when and where to make passes and shoot the ball,” Monasa said.
During games, Monasa’s job on defense is easier because of Arjin.
“I know he’ll take care of offense, which relieves pressure from me on defense. Not to mention he has great footwork and stamina. If he’s making a through pass to me, I know the ball will be placed exactly where I need it to be,” Monasa said.
The Country Day soccer team is coached by Athletic Director Matt Vargo and George Champayne.
The two developed Arjin from a midfielder to a striker, whose sole purpose is to score goals.
Arjin appreciates Champayne’s versatility as a coach.
“He’s a fun guy at practice, but during games he is blunt with no hidden meaning behind what he says,” Arjin said.
Arjin sees eye-to-eye with Champayne, since he’s the person who keeps the team grounded.
“I don’t sugarcoat anything with him. I tell him what he needs to do better in a few words, and he immediately understands me. No explanation needed,” Champayne said.
At Country Day soccer games, you will see Arjin coached by three people: Vargo, Champayne and his dad.
During the game, George Claire is always standing because he is too antsy and involved in the game to sit down.
Before the game and during halftime, George Claire goes up to his son to tell him how he can improve.
For George Claire, the most important aspect of playing soccer is that players need to enjoy the game.
“Arjin doesn’t play just because I’ve played my whole life. He plays because he is passionate about it,” George Claire said.
Arjin appreciates having his dad mentor him because he sees the game from another angle and can offer advice that he wouldn’t have received otherwise.
“When he comes up to me during halftime, it’s like comparing answers on a homework assignment,” Arjin said.
Both are avid Liverpool F.C. fans, so they often wake up early in the mornings to watch them play, not only for entertainment, but to analyze the skills and decisions of the professional players.
“We often pause and rewind the game to discuss what’s going on on the field, and I take those aspects and apply them to my own game,” Arjin said.
He believes education can take him further in life than making it to the professional leagues, so playing soccer in college isn’t a priority.
However, soccer isn’t completely out of the picture.
“If I can talk to the college coaches, try out and make the team, that would be great,” Arjin said. “But education has always come first.”
Ten to 15 years from now, Arjin would love it if his kids decided to play soccer, if they were willing.
“I’ve taken it to heart that if my kids don’t want to be soccer players, I’m not going to force it upon them just because it’s the sport I played,” Arjin said. “They need to have a love for the game.
Arjin Profile 1
arjin profile 3
Arjin Profile 5
— By Rod Azghadi
— Slideshow by Ethan Monasa
Originally published in the Oct. 26 edition of the Octagon.