Junior forward verbally commits to play soccer for Naval Academy

May 27, 2023 — by Neal Malhotra
Photo by Yul Hong
Yul Hong dribbling at MLS Next soccer showcase in Palm Springs.
Junior Yul Hong, who has been playing soccer since he was 6,  received an offer to play for the U.S. Naval Academy’s DI soccer program starting in the fall of 2024.

Dribbling across the field, weaving through six defenders, junior forward Yul Hong jumped up, heading the ball toward the goal, and watched the net ripple in the frigid San Francisco air. The crowd exploded as the U17 De Anza Force Major League Soccer (MLS) Next team took a 1-0 lead against San Francisco Glens SC in early May. With the team’s stellar defense and Hong’s goal, the game ended with a 2-0 win for the powerful Force team. 

The game was electrifying and memorable, not just for the crowd, but for Hong as well. After the game, he received a phone call from the Division I Navy Midshipmen Men’s Soccer coach, Tim O’Donohue, extending an offer to play soccer for the team starting in fall 2024.

Hong had been in contact with O’Donohue for six months prior to the game after the head coach watched him play in the December Palm Springs college showcase. They stayed in touch through text and phone calls and the coach came out to other MLS Next games to watch Hong play. 

Hong was not just being pursued by the Naval Academy, however. Playing in the MLS Next league, the highest level of competition in the country, Hong was part of both the U17 and U19 MLS Next teams. In mid-May, he helped the U19 team win all three of their games in a playoff qualifying tournament in Washington, D.C., eventually landing them the second seed in their upcoming playoffs. Because Hong plays in the MLS Next League, he is not permitted to play for the school so he is constantly training with the same team and coaches.

Hong, who started playing recreational soccer at age 6 and joined De Anza Force in fifth grade, said that because of the exceptional coaching staff and facilities, the club provided numerous opportunities for him to be recognized by college coaches. 

“De Anza has a good reputation and a great team,” Hong said. “We often get scouts showing up to our games and college showcases.”

After traveling to Maryland for an official visit to the Academy in April, Hong eventually decided that the school’s program was a strong candidate on the list of potential colleges he wished to attend.

“I was talking to a few other schools like Princeton, but I didn’t feel that I wouldn’t get the same opportunities [the Naval Academy could give me],” Hong said. “[The Naval Academy] has great facilities and I like the people on the team.” 

After taking about a week to discuss his options with his coaches and parents, he announced his verbal commitment via Instagram on May 17. 

Hong noted that the Naval Academy is different from most universities because students do not have to pay tuition in order to attend. Instead, students must enlist in the Navy for five years after graduation. 

Additionally, the Naval Academy has stricter rules and customs that students are forced to abide by. For example, students are forced to all eat together at the same time every day, parties are not allowed and they have daily training sessions with their company.

Hong said that he is considering pursuing a career as a naval pilot, and the Academy provides a good training ground for that path. The Naval Academy also allows all freshmen to come in undecided, which is an aspect Hong appreciated as it would give him the opportunity to try a wide variety of classes before he settles on a single major.

“I’m happy I made my decision to go to the Naval Academy,” Hong said. “I know they can do great things for my soccer career and my real career.”

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