Photo © Jessica Stone Hendricks Photography
RICHMOND, Va. – (Tuesday, August 21, 2018) – Life can be like a roller coaster ride. There will be ups and downs. Sometimes you’re sitting there enjoying the ride, while other times you cannot get off that ride soon enough.
Kickers defender Alex Lee has undoubtedly seen both aspects of the ride at this point in his life.
Like most soccer players who go on to be college stars, Lee excelled in his high school career, being named a 2007 NSCAA High School All-American back when he was a forward. Lee arrived at the University of Maryland his freshman year and was immediately blown away by the talent he was facing in practice.
“I was very lucky to play with a lot of good players that year,” Lee said. “Our team was stacked. It was a huge learning experience for me. I was playing against A.J. DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez every day. That definitely opened my eyes up to a whole different level of soccer.”
The Terrapins also had three players on the roster of Lee’s freshman year who went on to play in the World Cup (Gonzalez and Graham Zusi - USA, Rodney Wallace - Costa Rica). Maryland won the National Championship and Lee made huge strides, appearing in 13 games as a freshman.
“It doesn’t get much better than that to come in and win your freshman year,” Lee said. “They really set the precedent for the rest of my career.”
Lee returned his sophomore year and leaped into a larger role, starting 11 of the first 13 games of the season. The 5-foot-10, 160 pound defender was beginning to gel into his new position on the back line. That was until it all came crashing down.
“We had just beat Virginia Tech the night before,” Lee said. “That Sunday I went into D.C. and I was hanging with some of my teammates. I just wasn’t paying attention and got hit by a car going 40 miles per hour. I jumped at the last second and hit the windshield. My head hit the ground. I had a skull fracture and had to be rushed to the hospital. I had a subdural hematoma where it’s basically bleeding between the brain and the skull. They cut open my skull and released that pressure of blood.”
Following the operation, Lee was lucky enough to make a full recovery. It’s a moment that still sticks with Lee as he retells the story that occurred nearly nine years ago with a wince in his face. The Rockville, Maryland native went from his friends and family wondering if he would survive the accident to returning to physical activity in six months. It was truly remarkable.
“Because I didn’t have any injuries and it was just my head, I couldn’t play soccer but I could still run,” Lee said. “When I came back that was probably the fittest I had ever been in my life. I was able to use it as a positive. I’ve had a lot of great experiences since. I’m just lucky to be alive.”
Perhaps paramount of those great experiences since the accident is his time playing for the Guam national team. Lee’s grandmother on his father’s side of the family was born in Guam which allowed him to play for the small United States territory.
Lee made his debut for the Guam national team in a 2015 friendly against Hong Kong. It doesn’t end there. The defender was joined by his twin brother Justin and younger brother Nate in the starting XI.
“That was definitely one of the coolest moments of my life,” Lee said. “Walking out onto the field behind both of my brothers. The FIFA theme song was playing. It was a surreal experience.”
The Lee clan helped further cement themselves in Guamanian history when Guam defeated Turkmenistan 1-0 to earn its first ever World Cup Qualifying win on June 11, 2015. The Mateo, as the team is known in the area, had the island buzzing. Guam’s last World Cup qualifying match came back in 2000 and saw them lose 16-0 to Tajikistan. The turnaround and the excitement didn’t end there. Lee and Guam beat India, a country with approximately 6,000 times the population of Guam, by a score of 2-1 in the next match.
“It was such a proud moment,” Lee said. “All the people in Guam who were at the game were really cheering for us. They were just so proud. It was such a fulfilling moment after that game against Turkmenistan. Then we beat India on the same trip to win two games in a row at home.”
Eventually, Iran ended up winning the group and qualified for the World Cup this year. In the midst of the ongoing World Cup, Lee got a taste of what it feels like to have the support of an entire country.
“When you’re playing for your country, you’re playing for every single person in that country,” Lee said. “It’s really meaningful not only for the players, but for everyone in that country.”
Lee has now spent the last six years in Richmond playing for the Kickers, but that run ended Saturday night. Following the Kickers 3-2 win over Penn FC, Lee announced that it would be his last game in front of the Red Army. The right back is returning to College Park to study at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, the world’s first dental college.
"The Richmond Kickers will always hold a special place in my heart,” Lee said. "I have met many great friends throughout my time here and what I will miss most is competing with them game in and game out. It was an honor to see the club grow over the past six years, and while the club grew, I also grew as a player and a person.”
Beloved for his tenacity on the pitch, Lee concludes his Kickers’ career with 124 appearances while amassing 9,762 minutes.
"I am really going to miss Richmond and everyone in the Kickers organization from my teammates, my coaches, and everyone else I interacted with on a daily basis,” Lee said. "With that being said, I am excited for the next chapter of my life at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry."
Ever since that nearly tragic day, Lee played with an irresistible passion that spreads to others as he sprinted up and down the field. That passion will now be seen in a new capacity as he continues the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride of his own life.