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Out of his comfort zone

Yosuke Hanya ’21 is no stranger to blazing trails. He came to UMass from Tokyo in 2018 speaking very little English, but went on to become a star midfielder for the men’s soccer team—and win a special place in his teammates’ hearts. And in early 2022, he signed with the Colorado Rapids 2, part of the brand-new MLS NEXT Pro league created by Major League Soccer to offer new opportunities for rising stars in the sport.

Driven by the desire to improve and push himself, Hanya says, “The reason why I came to the United States was not only to play soccer in the NCAA but also to learn a new language and culture as well as to grow up as a person by getting out of my comfort zone.”

Hanya quickly made a name for himself on the team. “He garnered attention with his ability,” says Coach Fran O’Leary, “but more importantly, he won over the team. He was humble, hardworking, unselfish, and the guys took to him. It’s a lot easier to settle in if you’ve got the ability to make friends easily and quickly, and he definitely did that.”

Hanya was named to the Atlantic 10 (A-10) All-Rookie team in 2018 following his first season in Amherst. Despite a season-ending injury in 2019, Hanya bounced back stronger than ever. And in his final season in spring 2021, Hanya was an A-10 All-Conference Second-Team selection and earned first-team All-A-10 honors after leading the conference in assists. Ranking ninth nationally in assists and 16th in assists per game, he helped the team earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

… I didn’t give up my dream of becoming a soccer player.

It’s obvious from the way Hanya’s coach and teammates speak about him that they hold great fondness for him—and the feeling is mutual. When he first arrived at UMass, he says, “I was really having a hard time expressing myself to my teammates. But my teammates kept talking to me and treating me as a part of this team. That helped me open my heart and be myself.”

And, he adds, “After I finished my last season at UMass, I was thinking about hanging up the boots and going back to Japan to find a job. However, my teammates, coaches, and family kept supporting me and believing in me. And, most importantly, I didn’t give up my dream of becoming a soccer player.”

“While not physically big,” says O’Leary, “he’s a very brave player, both mentally and physically courageous.” That courage is apparent both on and off the field, and at both the collegiate and the professional levels.

O’Leary sees parallels between Hanya’s arrival at UMass and the start of his professional career. “Everyone would be out of their comfort zone traveling so far to a new environment,” says O’Leary. Now, as Hanya acclimates to a professional level of play, O’Leary says, “I think the confidence he gained from the initial transition from Japan to UMass will have served him well in his latest transition.”

So far, Hanya is adjusting successfully to his new career, having scored the first goal in the reserve team’s history. “As this team has a different soccer style than UMass, I also have a different role,” he says. “However, what I learned from college soccer still exists in my heart and helps me be myself, be confident on the pitch.”

What’s next for this driven and dynamic trailblazer? “My goal as a player is to sign with the first team and play in the MLS,” says Hanya. And if history is any indication, there’s a good chance he’ll do just that.