Bell, a senior forward, is one of the top players in the Friends’ Schools League and has scored a dozen goals (many of them game-winners) and dished out a half-dozen assists for the Phoenix boys’ soccer team (12-5). Friends’ Central head coach Galen Guindon said, “Asa has tremendous speed and has worked hard to improve his finishing. His ability to get in behind the back line makes him an extremely dangerous striker. He is a team first player and has been a fantastic leader for our program this season.” Off the pitch, Bell runs track for Friends’ Central (and has competed at the Penn Relays) and has been an avid drummer since fourth grade.
Q: Which of your game-winning goals stands out in your memory the most? Can you describe how the play unfolded and your role in it?
A: My favorite was against Marple-Newtown High School. It was a run of about 70 yards, and I remember it happening so quickly. We had just conceded a free kick just over the opposing side of midfield, and I was playing winger. The ball came in and was headed out, and fell to my feet. When I looked up, I noticed the amount of space in front of me, so I sprinted into it with the ball. Matt Blackman crossed my path in front of two center backs and a holding midfielder, forcing the opposing outside back to pick him up. At this time I am crossing midfield, and have just beaten their holding midfielder, but the touch I took was too big. However, it had split the two center backs and was rolling towards the keeper. I knew that I was fast, and because the two center backs were closing in on the ball going to the keeper as well I had to make something happen if we were going to win the game. I sprinted 30 yards catching up to the two center backs and tapped the ball between the keeper legs as he was reaching down to pick it up. It went through his legs and was rolling slowly towards the goal, with nobody around. I kicked it as hard as I could into the back of the net knowing that I had scored a pretty great goal.
Q: You mentioned that beating George School on penalty kicks in the Friends’ Schools League championship semifinal last fall was the highlight of your Friends’ Central soccer career. Can you share your memory of it with us?
A: It was a good game overall, opening with me scoring a well built-up goal ending with a cross from Matt. With the score 2-2 after overtime, we had to go to penalty kicks. This forced us to go to extra time, and then penalties. I always take the fourth penalty, because I always trust in Nolan (Nolan McGrann, our keeper) to make a save. If he saves a penalty before mine, I can handle the pressure of putting away a crucial penalty. But, of course, it was nowhere near that easy. Two penalties before me, we missed a penalty kick. This put more pressure on me because if I did not score, the game would be pretty much over. I ran up confidently and placed the ball in the bottom right right corner. Nolan then saved the next penalty, which brought the entire team so much relief. We went back and forth trading goals with George School, until on the tenth penalty, they missed and we rushed over to Nolan and tackled him. Our fans ran onto the field, and we were all yelling and cheering. After the game, walked all the way around the other side of our track, blasting Etta James’ song, “At Last.”
Q: What has been the key to your offensive point production this fall?
A: Trust and determination. I always tell myself to work hard so that my teammates do not have to, and being able to rely on my teammates no matter how many mistakes are made is a big part of getting assists and making the right runs towards goal.
Q: You’ve been playing alongside Matt Blackman since kindergarten. Does that bond enhance the on-field communication between the two of you – can you give an example of this happening during this season?
A: Absolutely. It really helps us get things going on offense when you are able to trust someone so much, especially when they are as skilled as Matt. It’s funny, because we tend to disagree in terms of runs and patterns of movement, but we still end up winning games and working things out before it becomes an issue. A good example of us working together I can be most clearly seen when he plays me through ball. He often takes on players towards my side (right wing) so that when he picks his head up, he can slot me in to find service. When this happens, he either runs around me for an overlap, or runs into the box. But once the pass is made, the hard work is done. As he is sprinting into the box. I always play a ball that runs right across the edge of the 6 yard box, which he meets without fail every time. Whether or not it goes in is up to which foot meets it, but I always try to find him when I can.
Q: What attribute(s) do you feel you have that make you best suited to forward? What aspect of your game are you currently working on the most?
A: I personally believe my speed is my best attribute. Often times my teammates joke about beating me in races, even though they know that I am the fastest. My speed allows me to make up for mistakes that come from maybe a bad touch or pass, and allow me to create chances that someone who is two steps slower than me would not be able to make. This being said, for a long time my weak foot and longer range finishing has not been as good as it should be, because for a long time when I was young, I never felt them necessary. I have put considerable effort into both, and they have significantly improved over the course of this season.
Q: Tell us a little about your club soccer career – what (to you) has been the highlight of your club soccer career?
A: In 10th grade I joined Nolan’s club team, Marple Fury and had a great time playing with him. The next year, I joined FCUSA Philadelphia with Matt, and had an even better time because we played in really competitive tournaments. My favorite moment from club soccer was winning the indoor state cup. It was in a barn style building about an hour and a half from my house, and it was really cold. We played a handful of short, 6-on-6 games. We had won every game except for one, against a team with a goalie that seemed like he could save anything. We made it to the final, and it went to overtime. The way overtime works in that tournament is each team removes a player every five minutes, and it ends if someone scores. After removing two players, Matt finally scored and we rushed the field and won scarves to commemorate the tournament.
Q: Tell us a little about your pre-game preparation the day of a game.
A: During the day, I make sure that I always drink at least one small carton of coconut water. This is because they have an extremely large amount of potassium to prevent cramps. Before a home game, we go into the big lecture hall on the bottom floor of one of the school buildings and blast music and dance around to get hyped up for the game. For an away game, we do the same thing, but in a significantly smaller space (back of the bus) which helps us feel together for games that are not home. Before every game, I always punt a ball up about 10-15 yards straight up into the air, bring the ball down and sprint across to the long side of the field. After I reach the other side, I do a Cruyff turn and sprint back, and do step-overs as I slow down. Afterwards, I join the team warmup.
Q: You wear No. 13 for Friends’ Central. Why did you pick this number – was there a particular reason?
A: 13 is bad luck, so I wear it to give bad luck to the other team.
Q: Who is your favorite soccer player and why? Is there a soccer player whose game you try to emulate?
A: Ronaldinho by a mile. I believe is the only player who has truly mastered every aspect of offensive soccer. He could dribble, pass, shoot, and play physically like no other player that he ever shared the field with. Whenever the ball came to his feet, the game changed pace and he always attempted to create a chance with by either playing it or getting it back or taking on an insane amount of players and still coming out on top. To an extent, I try to recreate his play, but I focus more on Lionel Messi. I focus on him because he is typically not a flashy player, which is the opposite of Ronaldinho, but still possesses almost all of the same ability. What I find most appealing about Messi’s play, however, is his little movements. The most complicated move he does is a step-over, because he can create all of the space he needs with a deadly shoulder fake or a fake shot. With his pace, he can create five or six yards between him after doing a move in only three steps. He is also relatively short, like me, so displays other means to score goals or set up players with individual skill, which is something I tried to do more this season for my team.
Q: Who have been your biggest soccer mentors, and what was the most important thing you learned from each one?
A: Galen (Friends’ Central head coach Galen Guindon) has had a big impact on my understanding of the game and what it should mean to every player on the field. He has showed us that if we commit to our system and trust each other and work as hard as we will outmatch every team we play. And this season, it really showed, even though we did not finish with a title. My other biggest influence was my childhood club coach, Sylvester Corbie. We met after a game I played in his indoor league, and said that he wanted me on his team. He has truly taught me everything I know about the basics of soccer, from learning how to do a stepover, to creating space for teammates by moving the ball or beating players. He often highlighted the importance of individual skill and I have met some of my best friends to date playing with him and his team.
Q: What was your most memorable experience at the Penn Relays?
My most memorable experience from them was my last race of the meet last spring, the 4 x 400. At the beginning of the race, there were at least 15-20 people on the track for our heat, and getting away from as many people as possible was extremely important. My friend Auguste was the lead off, and my other friend Ellis was the second leg. They both ran solid legs, but we had a bit of ground to make up. This meant that I had to pass a few people if our best runner, Jeff Brown (who is currently running at Bucknell University), wanted to anchor us somewhere high in the heat. I passed seven people, and finished with a 52 second split. That was far from the most difficult part, because the handoff was a mess of people all standing in one place running near full speed. Jeff moved to the edge of the handoff zone, which allowed me to hand the baton off to him free of any confusion and allowed him to run a smooth leg.
Q: Do you participate in any other extracurricular activities at Friends’ Central? What sparked your interest in each of these activities?
A: I am part of a few clubs, most centered around race relations and promotion of equality such as GSA (gay-straight alliance), STAR (students talking about racism), Students for Islamic Awareness, and Black Student Forum. I believe that to create a more cohesive country we need to create a less turbulent and frankly dangerous environment for minorities.
Fun facts – Asa Bell
Favorite book: The Great Gatsby.
Favorite author: F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Favorite TV show: Atlanta.
Favorite movie: Shrek 2.
Favorite athlete: Steph Curry.
Favorite pre-game pump-up song: Tarzan & Jane-Toy Box.
Favorite team: Manchester United.
Favorite place to visit: “The soccer field.”
Favorite pre-game meal: Coconut water and salad.
Favorite color: Blue.
Person I most admire: “Ronaldinho – I believe he is always overlooked in the conversation of best players ever, and has shown that soccer is almost an art form.”
Birth date: March 18, 1999 in Hackensack, N.J.
Family members: LiRon Anderson-Bell (mother), Glenn Bell (father), Bradleigh Bell (sister), Jackson (dog).
(To be selected as Main Line Boys Athlete of the Week, a student-athlete must first be nominated by his coach.)