North

Ukraine to Andover, Stas Curreri loves his new pitch

MARK LORENZ/ FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Andover High midfielder Stas Curreri awaits a pass from a teammate at a practice session last week.

From the beginning, Stas Curreri always had soccer. Even when things looked like they couldn’t get much worse, he could always pick up a ball and practice. It has been an escape of sorts for him, the one constant presence in a life filled with change.

“He literally bleeds soccer,” said Mitch McPike, a close friend and his U17 former coach with Massachusetts-based Global Premier Soccer.

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“It’s just incredible that he’s so passionate about it, considering what he’s been through.”

A 17-year-old junior at Andover High, Curreri was born in Ukraine, raised by a single mother who worked three jobs. The two lived alone in their one-room apartment in a very poor section of the city of Fastiv.

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“[We had] no hot water or working fridge, and our ceiling had a hole,” recalled Curreri. “Sometimes they turned off our gas when we had no money to pay, so we [had] no way to cook. Most of the time we had no heat.”

At age 6, Curreri took up soccer and was suiting up for a local team within a few years.

“Everyone plays soccer in Ukraine,” said Curreri, a slender 5-foot-10, 148-pound midfielder. “It’s the only sport we play there so I played every day.”

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When Curreri turned 9, his mother developed an illness and had to give her son to an orphanage in the town of Bucha. He arrived just as other orphans were sent away for the summer.

“He sat in the orphanage for 10 weeks alone without a soccer ball,” said Karen Brown, who along with her husband, David Curreri, adopted Stas in April 2013.

At summer’s end, as the other children returned, Curreri still had issues adapting.

“It was just a tough life in [the] orphanage,” said Curreri. “Kids were fighting all the time. Ty

MARK LORENZ/FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Stas Curreri earned Merrimack Valley Conference all-star honors as a junior at Andover High.

pical orphanage.”

He found his respite in soccer. One of the teachers at the orphanage enjoyed watching him play and let Curreri sign up for the Bucha club team. During the day, he was allowed to leave the orphanage to go to practices and games and return later that night.

“Soccer in Ukraine wasn’t even [a] real club like this. The schools were way smaller,” said Curreri. “We didn’t have school teams, we only had club teams outside the orphanage.”

He continued the routine until his first meeting with the Curreri family in 2011. They had recently adopted a son, Maksim, 6, from Kazakhstan, and selected Stas from a list of orphans to host through the program Open Hearts and Homes. From Christmas 2011 to Christmas 2012, he made three extended visits to Andover before accepting the family’s offer for adoption, joining Maksim and their 10-year-old daughter, Katherine.

“Coming here has changed my whole life,” said Curreri. “In the orphanage, I didn’t really study. There was no future [there]. Everyone who came out of [the] orphanage, no one goes to college or has a [good] job. Coming here is my chance to get an education and maybe play soccer.”

While the choice itself wasn’t a hard one, the transition to new surroundings was. Speaking relatively no English, Curreri started school as a freshman at Andover High. While he struggled to adapt to the environment, he found comfort on the soccer field, where he made the varsity as a freshman and formed a quick bond with classmate Edgar Mauge

“Those two immediately gravitated towards each other. Everyone called them Stedgar because they were inseparable” said Andover head coach Jim Saalfrank. “The upperclassmen did a great job of making Stas feel comfortable, but Edgar was his first great friend here.”

Curreri still struggled at times, but he made strides. He now speaks excellent English and is no longer the shy, quiet kid that arrive in town. It was not easy when Mauge moved to Pennsylvania, but Curreri has adjusted.

“He turned a page,” said Brown. “Not every day is perfect, but he’s making great progress.” Nat Boughton, a volunteer assistant at Andover, has been a constant supporter.

On the pitch, his comfort and talent were undeniable, and through his new parents, he landed a tryout with Global Premier. It was there that he first met McPike, a former professional.

“I was told by a senior member of my staff that there was a kid coming to tryouts named Stas and to watch out for him,” said McPike, who currently lives with the Curreri family while pursuing his studies at Salem State University.

“He was ridiculous. All of the other kids were asking me if he was going to sign with the team.”

After watching Curreri play for a few weeks, McPike made a recommendation to GPS director Pete Bradley. With Bradley in attendance, Curreri scored a goal and was offered a spot with the national premier team.

“He’s very gifted and very talented in terms of his quality and technique,” said Bradley. “He looks graceful when he’s on the field.”

Playing for Andover and GPS, Curreri is flourishing at the game. Andover senior captain Steve Schuwerk says his teammate is the most talented player he has ever played with, or against. “He has got unbelievable vision and a great left foot, and he just knows how to play the game,” he said, while lauding his toughness and tenacity.

He was a a Merrimack Valley Conference all-star in Andover’s 12-5-2 season last fall. With good grades, he has attracted the interest of a number of college soccer programs. But he and his family have discussed the idea of taking a post-grad year close to home, and delaying college for a year.

“I have [a] family now who loves me and takes care of me and who do stuff for me,” said Curreri. “At first it was very hard and stressful to get used to [my] new family . . . but then we got used to each other and now we have a perfect relationship.”

Said McPike: “When you have a good circle and everyone’s pulling for you, you can go a long way. And that’s what he has now.”

Boys’ players to watch

 Jackson Conroy , Reading: A four-year varsity starter, two-time captain, and two-time Middlesex League all-star, the senior striker has 13 goals and seven assists in his career.

 Bruno Da Silva , Malden: After three seasons working in a midfield role, the senior moves up to an attacking position. Malden graduated 12 players from an 18-1-2 squad.

 Christian Goodwin , Beverly: He was the defensive anchor for a squad that did not lose in the regular season last fall before losing in the tourney to Winchester on kicks. He returns for a final run as senior captain.

 Pedro Lopez , Greater Lawrence: In his first two seasons, he split time between up top and in the net. And who can argue? He was the best keeper in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference last fall while netting a team-high 24 goals. This fall, the junior is strictly a striker.

 Aidan Robinson , St. John’s Prep: The lone returning starter from last season’s Division 1 North champs, the senior center midfielder scored 10 goals for St. John’s last season. The Eagles will run plays through their captain this season.

Dan McLoone

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