Junior striker eludes war, finds security in soccer team

Matt Gweh has started all four games this season. The Apple Valley, Minnesota native has scored one goal and one made assist this season. Gweh is second on the team in points, trailing team-leader Isaiah Madrid by one.

Some say that life is just a game of inches. In fact, that’s the classic line from Al Pacino’s highly-acclaimed “Any Given Sunday.” Junior forward/midfielder Matthew Gweh of Valparaiso’s men’s soccer team knows all too well how much truth this line holds.

Gweh’s life flashed before his eyes as a youth living in a warehouse just over the border of Liberia in Guinea. After the first six years of his life, with a civil war looming, Gweh and his family fled Liberia and took refuge in Guinea.

Gweh had adjusted to life in Guinea until life threw another curve ball at him. One day a windy rainstorm blew in that caused the building housing thousands of refugees to collapse. Ultimately, a matter of inches made the difference between life and death.

“The good thing is that the building collapsed outside,” Gweh said. “ If the building had collapsed inside, it would have killed a lot of people.”

Gweh fell down but was not injured.

His family then resettled in Guinea before coming over to the United States in 2005. Coming to America was a great joy for Gweh, as he had never been offered an education before starting school in the fifth grade in Apple Valley, Minn.

Gweh’s story is a reminder of how thankful people should be for the little things in life. However, it wasn’t a dream scenario in America.

“We’ve had it rough here,” Gweh said. “For example, when I was living with my grandma, six or seven of us lived in a two-bedroom apartment. I never had my own room. I grew up in a really poor family and no one in my family has been able to go to college and receive a college education.”

Still, Gweh remains grateful for the opportunities he has received, and through all the hardships and trials, the Liberian-born 20-year old has always had soccer as an outlet to express himself. Gweh grew up playing the sport he loves in Africa with the neighborhood kids on the gravels and sands of the town, where his strong work ethic began.

“I think Matt has a great appreciation for the opportunity that he has here,” coach Mike Avery said. “He loves it at Valparaiso, he loves it within the team and I think that you can see that.”

Gweh’s best season at the high school level came his junior season, when he was named “Gatorade Boys Soccer Player of the Year” in the state of Minnesota.

His junior season at the collegiate level is off to a fine start. Gweh punched in a goal in the season opener on the road against No. 14 Kentucky. In the final moments of the Crusaders’ victory over Western Kentucky on Sept. 4, Gweh assisted teammate Isaiah Madrid, who then beat the goalkeeper for the golden goal.

“I have an eye for a goal,” Gweh said. “I love to win. When I’m on the field, those last minute moments when your team is down and everyone is panicking, that’s when I’m really calm and that’s when I think I am most dangerous.”

In addition to his impressive play, Gweh’s hard work has caught the attention of Avery.

“We’re a 6 a.m. team every day,” Avery said. “And as I roll into the ARC at about 5:45, I always see Matthew as one of the first guys here going in to get extra treatment, to get extra preparation for practice and he never complains about his business. He’s a very professional player.”

Life is a game of inches. It was a matter of inches that saved Gweh’s life, and Gweh is the type of player that will go the extra inch for his teammates.

Contact Jack Vita at torchsports@valpo.edu.

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