On an island nation near Africa’s southeast coast, three boys shared a passion and a dream — playing soccer and coming to America. At George Mason High School, they have realized both.
At 6 p.m. just outside San Michele Catholic School in Antananarivo, Madagascar, dozens of kids pour into the street at the sound of the final bell. With merely a soccer ball and two goals by their side, they begin to choose teams for what will be hours of competition. It does not matter where the game is, as the kids will take up sides on concrete, grass-less parks, and dirt fields. All that these high school children care about is that they are playing soccer.
Among these children who would sprint out to the field are three boys, best friends growing up and teammates forever. Their lives are centered on one love — soccer — and one dream — immigration to America.
The students played soccer all day, year round, but they did not play for the money or the sponsorships. These kids simply competed because they love the sounds, the smells and the sights of the game.
However, these kids also longed to come to the United States, to toe the grass on some of the best fields in the world, a stark contrast to the often barren school grounds in Madagascar. They longed to play a game with real shin guards, under the shining lights of an American high school stadium.
Back then, the three boys honed their skills on the playgrounds of the Malagasy capital, far away from their ultimate dream, but right at home with the sport they cherish.
Today, thousands of miles to the west, lies Falls Church, Va., where, on the pristine synthetic turf of Moore Cadillac Stadium at George Mason High School, the boys varsity soccer team practices, shin guards and shiny balls aplenty.
The three kids from Madagascar have made it.
On one side of the field are the forwards, where senior Antonio Randrianasolo darts back and forth, flailing his legs about like an Irish sword dancer, making the defenders miss with every step-over. In a corner by the endline is Antonio’s younger brother, Elio, a midfielder who, albeit diminutive in stature, is blessed with moves and speed measuring up to anyone in the state.
Just a couple yards away is the reigning Bull Run District Player of the Year, Mason’s lockdown defender junior Anthony Andrianarison, whose gazelle-like strides through the middle of the pitch and lightning quick turns are enough to shut down even the most potent of strikers.
The talent of each is as broad as their last names. Their moves are as baffling as their moniker’s pronunciation. And on display at all times by these three, dubbed “The Madagascar Mafia,” by Mason assistant coach Frank Spinello, is the perfect amalgamation of a cherished Malagasy heritage and the beautiful game of soccer.
The trio grew up together in the same village of Antananarivo, Madagascar, but immigrated to America in 2004, bringing their street-style of play to one of the most succesful single A boys soccer programs in the state.
Sitting in a room with the Malagasy players, it is easy to tell that they have been together for their entire lives. All three feed off of each other, completing sentences as they recount their memories of Antananarivo. Back home, just like here, soccer is everything.
“It’s what I miss the most about Madagascar,” says Andrianarison. “Soccer is just life.”
“We played anywhere, in the streets, at the school,” adds Antonio Randrianasolo. “We just went out there, picked teams and began playing. Soccer was what I looked forward to every day.”
The chance to score the winning goal in a pickup game was exciting, but the opportunity to come to America was nothing short of incredible for these three. It was everyone’s dream.
“When I found out I was coming, I just quit school,” said Elio Randrianasolo.
Coming to the United States also meant trying their hand at American soccer, playing in a culture vastly different from what they were accustomed to.
“The level back home was so different,” commented Elio Randrianasolo. “Everyone is really good. In the U.S., not everyone takes soccer that seriously, because it’s not that popular here.”
“Here at Mason they take soccer really seriously, it’s really structured,” his brother chimed in. “I was just used to getting a soccer ball and playing without a coach.”
Whatever difficulties they encountered during that move in 2004, the Randrianasolo brothers and Andrianarison have brushed those aside, integrating perfectly into Coach Arthur Iwanicki’s vaunted Mustang team.
In his four-year tenure, Antonio Randrianasolo has never lost a district regular match. His personal record stands at 36-0-4 in the Bull Run District. He is the first Mustang senior to ever have accomplished such a feat.
However, it is that elusive state championship that means the most to the Malagasy trio. At the end of the season, with Antonio’s graduation, it will be the first time in over 10 years that the three will not stand on the sidelines together, but a state title would be the perfect way to go out.
“I can’t even describe how much it would mean to me,” says Antonio. “It’s all I need. I can’t ask for anything more. I just want to go back there and win one for the first time.”
For a time it looked as though Antonio would watch any postseason action from the sidelines. During Mason’s senior night game on May 9 against Rappahannock, Antonio went down with a foot injury, initially diagnosed as a season-ending fracture. Recently, a second set of X-rays revealed that there was no fracture and Antonio is aiming to return next Wednesday for the Region B Semifinals, should the Mustangs win their quarterfinal match on Monday.
Although Elio Randrianasolo and Andrianarison, both juniors, will have one more shot at a state title next year, sharing a trophy with their fellow Malagasy comrade would be the icing on the cake for them.
“I can’t play without these kids,” says Elio. “When Antonio went down, it felt like a big piece was missing from our team. It’s just hard to play without him. I haven’t been to states yet, so winning it would be awesome.”
While getting to the state tournament at Radford University in June is not a simple task, the bond shared by these three is nothing short of remarkable.
“We’re just used to playing with each other, there’s no need to talk anymore,” says Elio. “We can just communicate with eyesight. We’ve been together that long.”
When eye-based communications aren’t enough, the trio can fall back on another advantage from their time spent together in their homeland. All three recounted a game against Madison County this past season, in which the opposing players lamented at how it was “unfair they could speak to each other in a different language.”
On the back of the Mason varsity soccer team shirts is the slogan “What Makes Us Different Makes Us Great,” a testament to the incredible diversity — the team is represented by players from every continent save Antarctica — of the squad. In reality, though, what makes the Malagasy players the same is what makes them truly great on the field.
“Coaching them has been just a pure delight,” said Iwanicki. “All three are the model of consistency, never having an off game, playing for the full 80 minutes.”
The accolades garnered by these three during their tenure at Mason have been nothing short of remarkable. Andrianarison, in addition to being a starter on the varsity basketball team, was named the Bull Run District Player of the Year last season for his work as sweeper, and also earned a First-Team All-Region B award and an All-Met Honorable Mention from the Washington Post. Antonio also received First-Team All-District and First-Team All-Region, while his brother got Second-Team All-District.
It is certain that the three will move on to bigger and better things on the pitch past high school — Antonio plans to attend a community college next year and then transfer, playing soccer along the way — but the ultimate way for them to conclude the immediate future would be a state championship in June. For the Randrianasolo brothers, they have dedicated their victories to their father, back home in Madagascar.
“I just miss my dad the most,” said Antonio. “I have to give him credit, because he has been teaching me soccer since I was a kid.”
While memories of dirt fields and pick-up games will forever stay with these three, winning a state championship would be the ultimate fairy-tale end to the George Mason High School chapter for the Malagasy trio.