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Andreas Chronis > from Bayside, US to Athens, Greece May 31, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Football.

He signed a 4-1/2 year contract two months ago and has moved from his family’s comfortable home in Bayside to live alone in Athens. But for 18-year-old Andreas Chronis, the reality of being a professional soccer player didn’t hit him until Sunday when he stepped on the field for AEK Athens in a friendly against Portuguese powerhouse Benfica at Giants Stadium.

“The second I heard my name, a rush came and I thought, ‘Wow, this is actually happening,'” Chronis said. “It became official at the game.”

While it was just a coincidence, the match seemed to be the perfect coming-out party for Chronis, who just a few months ago was playing for Holy Cross HS in the CHSAA semifinals. But there he was, playing the final 35 minutes of AEK’s 2-1 loss to Benfica, which features superstar Rui Costa. And when he walked off the steaming hot pitch after his debut, Chronis was an instant celebrity. Fans begged and pleaded with him for souvenirs and he obliged, throwing his socks, shin guards and cleats into the stands. Although three Benfica players offered to exchange jerseys with Chronis, as is soccer tradition, he promised it to his family.

A few months ago, Chronis thought he had his future planned out. He’d graduate Holy Cross in May, play club soccer over the summer and then it would be on to Columbia University in the fall. There is certainly nothing wrong with that plan, but it wasn’t his dream.

“When I was younger, that was the team in Greece that I followed and I always said I wanted to go there,” said Chronis, who is a U.S. citizen, but counts as a Greek player because his father was born there. “But I never thought it would actually happen.”

That dream became a reality in a matter of a few weeks in March, when he flew to Greece to train with AEK’s second team after a family friend recommended Chronis to the club.

He initially garnered interest from several teams in Cyprus’ top division after scoring 12 of his team’s 16 goals in a tournament against other youth teams in March. Chronis impressed enough to earn a spot in a scrimmage watched by AEK’s coaching staff as well as its owner, Demis Nikolaidis, a former AEK star, whose uniform Chronis wore growing up. And once he scored in the scrimmage, AEK essentially offered Chronis a contract on the spot.

Included in the first-team contract was his own spacious two-bedroom apartment on the third floor of a three-family house in Athens. Another incentive was the use of a car, but his father, Peter Chronis, said no. In part, he said, because of the reputation of drivers in Athens.

While he had to jump at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Chronis was also concerned about finishing high school, where he had a 93 average. With the help of Mary Anne Kelleher, a guidance counselor at Holy Cross and the school’s president, Joseph Giannuzzi, Chronis was able to take some online classes and he squeezed in the fourth quarter’s workload between training and adjusting to life alone in Athens. Should his work be graded in time, Chronis will be able to walk with the rest of his class at the school’s graduation Saturday.

Chronis will be home for about a month, and then it’s back to Greece to prepare for his first full season as a professional.

AEK, which finished second behind Olympiakos in the Greek Super League, has qualified for the Champions League and could play in a group with one of Europe’s biggest clubs. And come August, Brazilian superstar Rivaldo will be one of his teammates.

“I feel like I’m on top of the world,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

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