Hard work, education, family, dedication and perseverance.
For many, these are the principles of their everyday lives.
For the newest member of Real Salt Lake, Phanuel Kavita, these were the tools that led him to do what many people fall short of doing: make their dreams come true.
Phanuel Kavita was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and at age 7 his family moved to Utah. Kavita said he played soccer throughout his childhood and thought of nothing else.
“I’ve always had the dream of playing professionally,” Kavita told the Deseret News. “In my mind, there was no negative thought of me never achieving that goal.”
Nonetheless, Kavita had to deflect negativity from others.
“As a kid, I wasn’t the best footballer at all," he said. "I was told to quit trying to play soccer. I was told to quit because I wasn’t as good as everybody else. But I worked tremendously hard to get to where I am. My No. 1 (goal) is to work hard, keep focused on what you want and work hard at it.”
As a teenager, Kavita was a ball boy for Real Salt Lake back when RSL was playing at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Growing up, Kavita said his favorite RSL player was a young midfielder named Kyle Beckerman. “I remember after being a ball boy, my coach took me to a game to just watch Kyle Beckerman the entire game,” Kavita said. “It was eye-opening.”
At age 13, Kavita worked hard and reached a point when — based on his skills, competing with others and growing as a player — he realized playing professional soccer was realistically possibility.
“Getting older, I started taking it a lot more serious. And not most kids did take it as serious as I did. But I feel that was where I separated myself from others.”
Utah is one of the leading states for participation in soccer youth programs, clubs and leagues. Kavita said the game of soccer has grown tremendously since he was a kid.
"Back then, it didn’t seem as big, but now, the way it’s grown, it’s fantastic," he said. "It’s crazy to see the progress that the United States has now with youth programs, especially Salt Lake.”
Kavita attended Highland High in Salt Lake City, where his skills as a soccer player continued to flourish, as well as his education. Family is an important cornerstone in Kavita’s life.
“Playing with my brother was one of my most memorable moments (at Highland),” he said.
At Highland, Kavita said he learned to take school more seriously.
“It is very difficult to succeed without a degree, and my parents have always taken education very seriously," he said. "And that was the No. 1 thing to continue to ground in at Highland.”
For Kavita, Highland is special not just because he attended the school, but also because his brothers and sisters attended the school as well.
After graduating from Highland, Kavita headed to South Carolina to attend Clemson University. Kavita said his time at Real Salt Lake's soccer academy in Arizona helped him prepare for being away from his family and friends, which was the toughest thing for him to adjust to when he left for college.
At Clemson, Kavita’s game grew tremendously, and he started all 81 matches he was eligible to play in. Kavita was captain of the team his last two years at Clemson, helping lead his team to an ACC championship. For his excellent play his senior season, Kavita was named to the All-ACC Second Team and All-ACC Tournament Team.
Kavita’s accomplishments at Clemson were not only on the pitch. Kavita excelled in his studies, graduating early from Clemson with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and minoring in business. Not only will he use his talent and skills when playing, Kavita says he’ll use his lessons learned in the classroom on the pitch as well.
“I love thinking about what the opponent is thinking; what move he is thinking of making. I use psychology a lot — it’s a big deal.”
On Jan 10, Real Salt Lake announced that Kavita was coming home, signing him on a Major League Soccer designated homegrown player deal. Kavita will get a chance to play alongside the player he looked up to — Kyle Beckerman — and others.
"Phanny is a real success story of our Academy. He has excelled on the field for Clemson, but also in the classroom where he graduated early with a degree in psychology,” said RSL Technical Director Craig Waibel in a news release. "That sort of character is exactly the kind of person we want associated with Real Salt Lake and we are excited to have him join the club."
When asked about what he wants to learn from his new teammates, in particular, the veterans, Kavita said he just wants to learn the basics of playing at the professional level and then grow from there. “I want to learn the ropes: how things work,” Kavita said. “Of course I want to be playing. All I’m going to be doing is listening, paying close attention, and being really specific with details.”
Kavita has accomplished what many people can’t say they’ve done, which is making their dreams a reality. Kavita’s message to those working on reaching their goals is to not give up, surround yourself with positive people, take risks, and most importantly, work hard.
“It’s a combination of everything, but I believe it’s just hard work,” said Kavita. “Hard work has led me to where I am today.”
Xoel Cardenas is a sports writer for the Deseret News. He is also a columnist at SB Nation, the biggest sports blog site in the country, where he covers FC Barcelona. Follow him on Twitter @XoelCardenas