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High School Sports

From Alaska’s family of master furriers comes a master of soccer

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: May 13, 2019
  • Published May 11, 2019

West High's Jack Green sends the ball toward the net in a soccer game against Dimond earlier this season. (Marc Lester / ADN)

You might remember Jack Green from years ago when he appeared in TV commercials for the family store. He was a little kid back then, dancing up and down between racks packed with fur coats, teaming up with his younger brother and sister to toss coat after luxurious coat onto a mannequin.

Green is 18 now and about to graduate from West High. He grew up into a nice kid. He marked his final day of classes Friday by visiting his elementary school teachers, and earlier in the week — the morning after a heartbreaking varsity soccer loss — he texted the coach of the winning team to thank him for setting up an exhibition match for special-education students.

In August, Green will head to Washington, D.C. to attend American University, play Division I soccer and work on a business degree.

He will leave with a clear vision.

“Hopefully I will take over the business after I’m a pro soccer player,” he said.

The family business is one of Anchorage’s oldest, one that began in 1922 when Green’s great-grandfather, Alaska pioneer David Green, opened a downtown store and became the state’s most famous furrier.

Green’s parents, David and Shani, run the business now, and furs aren’t the only thing that surrounded their oldest son when he was a little boy. There were lots of soccer balls too.

“When I was young my dad would roll the ball toward me and I would kick it, so by the time I was 3 I knew how to properly strike the ball,” Green said.

He continued to acquire skills early because he worked on them, and he worked on them because he didn’t have much size or speed.

Green is 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds now, but coming out of 8th grade he was 4-10 and 82 pounds.

“I was itsy-bitsy,” he said. “What I’ve learned is soccer is a sport for every size. When you’re smaller you’re not going to have speed or strength, so I just had to be better with the ball. To have a good first touch, to take a player on a 1v1 — these are kind of my specialties, because I didn’t have the size or speed.”

Green has 17 goals and eight assists in 10 games for the West Eagles. West coach Laef Eggan said Green is the reason why the Eagles are challenging for second place in the Cook Inlet Conference.

“He is head-and-shoulders better technically than anybody in the state in his age group,” Eggan said. “And he’s just a terrific kid too. He’s always at training with a smile on his face and he’s always encouraging other players, so it’s a pleasure.”

Soccer has taken Green on a wild and wonderful ride so far.

After his sophomore year, he was selected to play for America’s Under-16 team at the 2017 Maccabiah Games, which are known as the Jewish Olympics and are held every four years in Israel. The United States had never before won a medal in junior boys soccer, but with Green as its captain, the team beat Brazil in overtime to capture the gold medal.

Right before the Maccabiah Games, Green attended a week-long training camp in Portland. He thought he was going there to train for the Maccabiah Games. A couple days into training he learned the camp was a trial for the Portland Timbers Academy, a youth development group for Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers.

At the end of the week, Green was offered a spot in the academy. Accepting it would mean moving away from Anchorage and leaving behind his family, his classmates and his teammates.

“I said, ‘I think you should go,’ ’’ Eggan said. He told Green’s parents the same thing.

Green spent the next 18 months in Portland, training nearly every day at the Timbers facilities and attending school at Woodrow Wilson High School. He lived with a family friend for a few months until she moved and then he stayed a few months with a family he met through his involvement with Portland’s Jewish community. For the last several months, he lived with another Anchorage teenager who is part of the Timbers Academy and lives in an apartment with a chaperone.

Jack Green, center, is left-footed but is able to use his right foot too. (Marc Lester / ADN)

By last summer Green was exploring his college options. He wanted to play soccer, he wanted to pursue a business degree, and he wanted to go someplace with a vibrant Jewish community.

He was looking primarily at Division III schools like Emory University in Atlanta and Washington University in St. Louis. He was on his way to visit Emory when he had a life-changing conversation with a man sitting next to him on his flight to Atlanta.

“My mom told me to go to sleep on the flight,” Green said. “But it was a quick, one-hour flight and I was chatting with the guy next to me and we were talking about soccer. I told him ‘I’m on a college recruit visit right now,’ and he told me his son was in a development academy.

“… In our bonding over our love of soccer I guess I made a great impression, because he said, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you’re interested in American University, but I’ll reach out to their coaches.”

Two weeks later, Green was in study hall at his Portland high school when he saw that the American University soccer team had followed him on Twitter.

He decided to email the coaches. He sent them a brief biography and a highlight reel. Ten minutes later they replied and expressed interest.

The email included a P.S.: “We’re going to be in Portland this week playing the University of Portland.”

By now, Green started thinking there was some destiny to all of this.

“What are the odds they will be playing in Portland the week I email them?” he said. “All these coincidences were piling up on top of each other. I sat next to this guy on the plane and I opened my stupid mouth even though my mom said to go to sleep.

“… I started googling American University (to see) what they have to offer. They have one of the top business schools in the nation and I had no idea about it. That’s another coincidence.”

The school also has a sizable Jewish presence, ticking off another box. And it’s a Division I school — the level Green always wanted to play at. He accepted an offer to play for the Eagles.

“Division III doesn’t mean you’re not a good player, but the thing is, those players are at the end of their soccer careers,” Green said. “Whereas in Division I you always have something to look forward to, there’s so much beyond college.”

In Division I, Green will face bigger and stronger players in training and in matches, just like he did when he was with the Portland Timbers Academy. He is hungry for the challenge, because he knows it can help him get better.

Green could have stayed in Portland for his final semester of high school and continued to train at a high level against elite players, something that probably would have served him well heading into his freshman year of college.

But he decided to come home and play one final season at West High. He was a good player when he left Anchorage, and he was even better when he returned.

“He’s always three steps ahead of everybody else up here,” Eggers said. “The game slowed down for him here, so it’s really easy for him.”

Jack Green draws the attention of defenders as he gets in position before a throw-in. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Green has the extra advantage of being left-footed, which makes him more difficult to defend. He is a strong candidate for the Gatorade Player of the Year award, but he didn’t come home so he could dominate the Cook Inlet Conference or win MVP awards.

He came home because his younger brother Jordan is a sophomore on the West team, and this season was Green’s first and last chance to play on a competitive team with him. “We’ve always played together in our basement, so it’s fun to play with him at West,” he said.

He came home so he can enjoy some stress-free weeks before he begins college and academic and athletics demands consume his days and nights. He came home so he could coax his mom into fixing him lunch and washing his laundry and making his bed — all of the things he did for himself while living in Portland.

And he came home because home is where he wanted to end his high school days.

“I’ve grown up in Anchorage my entire life and my family’s been here forever,” Green said. “I’ve been to school with these kids for 11 years. Do I want to graduate from Woodrow Wilson High School in Portland or with kids I’ve been to school with all my life?

“It wasn’t a soccer decision.”