It’s turn-your-ears-red cold when Andreas Chronis makes his arrival at the soccer field in Astoria Park early in the morning before work.
As the joggers run rings around the track, Andreas ties his dark hair up in a man bun and starts kicking the ball around the perpetually green artificial turf.
“I always get emotional on the soccer field,” he says, sending the ball spinning into the air like a shooting star. “I’m competitive minded – I always want to win. If I’m not competing with someone else, I’m competing with myself.”
Through the years, as Andreas has set the goal post higher and higher for his achievements, he hasn’t always come out a victor.
But his losses have only made him work harder to win.
Andreas, whose feet first made a significant connection with a soccer ball when he joined a team at age 3, is the captain of the Astoria-based amateur team the New York Pancyprian-Freedoms.
It was his father, who played competitively in his native Athens, Greece, who got him into the game.
Andreas’ mother, an immigrant from Limassol, Cyprus who died when he was 7, made no objection.
Andreas, who is a tall, chiseled-featured left-footed player, and his older brother used to kick the ball around their two-bedroom apartment in Astoria, sometimes not without lasting and unanticipated consequences.
“We broke a lot of things like plates and vases,” Andreas says, smiling. “And we used the metal door frame as a goal post; it made a lot of noise that the neighbors didn’t like, but my father loved it.”
Andreas, who is now 31, rose through the ranks of the soccer world, mastering what he calls “the science of the game,” and by 13, he was a player on U.S. Soccer’s Youth National Teams Under 14 team. He remained all the way up to the U-19 team.
He also was a member of the U.S Region 1 Team from U-14 to U-17.
When he was 17, his ability with the ball landed him a full four-year scholarship to Columbia University.
It was, he says, an offer that he accepted with alacrity: He had always been an excellent student and had his eye not only on the ball but also on the Ivy Leagues.
He was all set to go until he got a 4.5-year contract from AEK of the Greek Super League to play as a professional.
He didn’t hesitate to follow the ball all the way to Greece.
But things didn’t work out as he planned or hoped.
“The team didn’t support me mentally or professionally. It was a first-division team, and they loaned me out to a fourth-division team,” he says, adding that at one point he was not even being paid. “I wanted to leave because I saw no future.”
To do that, he eventually bought out his contract, paying some $20,000 – virtually all of his savings.
When he arrived back home, he started working for the family business – a pair of chic clothing stores based in Westchester.
He began as a part-time salesman and worked his way up to become the working manager of Beginnings Boutique in Scarsdale and Beginnings Bleus in Armonk.
At 25, he went back to school, earning an associate’s degree in advertising and marketing from FIT and then a bachelor’s degree in business from Baruch College.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he says. “I was working full time and going to school, and I was engaged and had no time to spend with my fiancee. I was playing soccer at night.”
These days, Andreas’ schedule is just as packed: In addition to working at the stores five days a week, he practices soccer one night a week and plays on Sundays.
He’s quick to point out that the New York Pancyprian-Freedoms are on a winning streak – after eight years of losing, they have clinched the championships the last three years in a row.
In his spare time, Andreas is training and mentoring four soccer-playing kids and recently signed a deal with FC Westchester to mentor and provide technical proficiency expertise to its gifted young players.
Citing his own negative experience as a pro, Andreas says that he wants to “pass on my knowledge and skills.”
He and his wife (yes, she stuck with him while he was trying to keep all those balls up in the air), Stephanie, have an 18-month-old daughter who is already kicking soccer balls around the apartment.
Their second child is due in the spring.
Andreas still wishes he had pursued a professional soccer career, but he’s channeled his competitiveness into the clothing stores, where he has enacted a number of changes that have made them more efficient and profitable.
“I regret not being a professional soccer player every day,” he says as packs up his gear and gets in his car to drive to the stores to work his shift. “I think about what I could have done differently. I had everything required to be a success, but I didn’t fulfill my potential.”
Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling