Wednesday, 05 April 2017 07:01

Playing in the V-League

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Ash Apollon’s unlikely football career has taken him from his native Boston all the way to the pros in Vietnam. Words by Harry Hodge

 

Ashkanov “Ash” Apollon has certainly taken the path less travelled in his professional football career. And that journey has brought him from the other side of the world to playing for Long An FC of the V-League.

 

Apollon was a late bloomer in the game, playing it sparingly growing up in Massachusetts since he was more into other sports like basketball.

 

“Football really started to become my passion around the age of 16 when I was living in Haiti with my parents,” he recalls. “The passion for the game there is enormous; it was then that I started getting into it.”

 

In spite of his late start, he was able to secure a scholarship to Peninsula College in the Pacific Northwest of the US. From there he made the cut for the academy side of the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer (MLS).

 

Apollon’s pro career started in Thailand, where he played in 2014 and 2016. He called it a “slow start” to his career since he was already 23 when he signed the contract. A Thai connection contacted Long An’s manager and suggested him, and he was on a plane as soon as his Thai contract ended. Prior to arriving he’d watched some videos and Asian Football highlights to get a feel for the Vietnamese game.

 

“Nothing can really prepare you (to play here), there are so many unexpected things and it is a mistake to ever underestimate the league,” he said. “After the team had discovered me, their main expectation after signing me was for me to bring some flair into the attack, to score and create goals in general.”

 

As for the team, that’s another story. After the first few games, Long An FC was languishing near the lower end of the league standings. This included a bizarre match against Ho Chi Minh City FC where a soft penalty led to an on-pitch “boycott” by his Long An team-mates, who refused to try playing despite the game being locked at 2-2. Their goalkeeper even turned his back during a penalty kick in what ended as a strange 5-2 loss.

 

The fiasco made worldwide headlines for all the wrong reasons. Suspensions and two-year bans ensued, with a new chairman appointed shuffling the line-up over the black eye it gave Vietnamese football.

 

“For me, as long as I’m playing, living well and getting paid I’m good,” Apollon said. “The league is not easy, any team can get a result anywhere at any time, nothing is ever given.”

 

But Apollon has remained positive about prospects for the rest of the season. He’s currently on a one-year contract with Long An FC.

 

“It’s been a great experience so far and it’s nice that I’m starting to make my name in the league,” he said.

 


 

Vinh guns World Cup shooting silver

 

Hoang Xuan Vinh pocketed a silver medal at the International Shooting Sport World Cup, according to Vietnam News.

 

The Olympic champion came second in the men’s 10m air pistol event, which also drew the world’s strongest shooters like Olympic silver medallist Almeida Julio of Brazil and bronze medal winner Yang Wei of China.

 

In the finals, Vinh continued to lead the ranking after the first two five-shot series.

 

However, Japanese Tomoyuki Matsuda put in an outstanding performance and overcame all other participants in the last seven two-shot series. He came from behind to take the top spot with a total of 240.1 points, setting a new world record in the process.

 

Vinh finished second with 236.6 points, followed by India’s Rai Jisu with 216.7.

 

Vinh won a silver medal in this event in the Rio Olympics last August.

 

Heat finally win on Singapore’s home floor

 

It took two years, but the Saigon Heat finally visited OCBC Arena in Singapore and left with a victory, according to the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) website.

 

For the first time ever, they celebrated on the Slingers’ home floor, winning 75-73 over the second seed in the ASEAN Basketball League in early March.

 

Lenny Daniel led the way with 22 points, 12 rebounds, two steals, and an assist. But it was Jordan Henriquez who made a big difference in the game, as he stood his ground against Slingers big man Justin Howard in the paint, holding him to 22 points on 10-of-29 shooting from the field.

 

Despite playing Alab Pilipinas only 48 hours prior in Vietnam, the Heat didn’t look like a tired team and played some inspired basketball to secure the win.

 

Women’s football team holds Hanoi camp before April tournament

 

The national women’s football team will gather to prepare for the 2018 Asian Championship’s qualification, according to Vietnam News.

 

A group of 26 players has been called up, and trained under coach Mai Duc Chung all last month in Hanoi. Ha Nam Province contributed seven players, while Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have six each. Vietnam Coal and Minerals contributed five and Thai Nguyen Province sent two. Ha Thi Nhai of Vietnam Coal and Minerals and Do Thi Nguyen of Ha Nam, are making their debuts for the senior national team and have been touted as rising stars.

 

They also had one week of intensive training in Thanh Hoa before playing up to five friendly matches. The tournament will be held from Apr. 3 to Apr. 11 in Hanoi. Vietnam are in Group D with Myanmar, Iran, Syria and Singapore.

 

Jr. NBA program returns to Vietnam

 

The National Basketball Association (NBA)’s Jr. NBA development programme returned to Vietnam for the fourth consecutive year last month, according to Tuoi Tre.

 

Besides the traditional venues at Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the NBA’s global youth basketball participation programme for boys and girls this year will expand to the central city of Danang for the first time.

 

The free-of-charge programme hopes to reach more than 5,000 boys and girls aged 10 to 14 at more than 200 schools across those three cities in three months, with many training activities.

 

During the programme, all three cities will host a series of school-level coach clinics, with a selection camp in Ho Chi Minh City on Apr. 22.

 

The top 32 boys and girls from the two selection camps will be invited to participate in the Jr. NBA National Training Camp in Ho Chi Minh City from Jun. 23 to Jun. 25 which will culminate with eight boys and eight girls being named 2017 Jr. NBA Vietnam All-Stars.

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 05 April 2017 07:07
Harry Hodge

Harry Hodge has written for publications across Canada and Asia, including Metro Edmonton, 24 Hours Toronto, the Korea Herald and many more. In Vietnam you've either read his sports column or seen him pitching skin cream in Vietnamese TV commercials. Follow him on Twitter at @hodgedude or send him a note about your sports events at harry@wordvietnam.com.

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