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The wizard of Mozz

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Mozzi Gyorio came from the former Yugoslavia to Hungary to Prince Edward Island. He’s played in the Netherlands, the NASL and in England. As he looks to re-fire his career as a member of Minnesota United FC, the midfielder talks about his hopes, dreams and the loss of his brother…

Some 600 kilometres east of Quebec City lies Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island. The total population of the province is only 28 per cent of Quebec City’s and only 0.1 per cent of the nation’s landmass. Within P.E.I. is a city named Stratford. It was an unlikely place to find one of Canada’s promising young soccer prospects of the mid 2000s, Mozesh “Mozzi” Gyorio.

Stratford became the landing spot for Mozzi, who was born in the former Yugoslavia. His hometown of Bačka Topola would become part of Serbia after the war and breakup of his home country in the early 1990s. Seeing trouble on the horizon, his father, Csaba, and mother, Irena, moved from Yugoslavia to Hungary when Mozzi was only two. His parents had Hungarian roots, so the move was natural. Mozzi, his mother, father and older brother Shaul, made the trip to Canada in 1993.

“My parents had a great life in Yugoslavia and they left everything they had to start new,” says Mozzi. The now 24-year-old just recently signed a contract with Minnesota United FC of the North American Soccer League, where he will try to find room as a creative number 10 in an already crowded midfield. His stint with the Loons will be his first back in the United States since his time with FC Tampa Bay in 2011.

Even though Mozzi was very young, the hardship of the move along with several other impactful moments in his life has influenced his drive to become a professional footballer.

Mozzi’s father played professionally in Yugoslavia before his son was born. By the time Mozzi was old enough to watch, his father was out of his prime, but the boy was impressed with his dad’s skill and command of the ball.

“He tried to teach me from his experiences, being a former professional. How he trained, what he did on the field. He was always an inspiration for me. Kids respect when they see something. You can talk all day but if you can actually do what you teach…”

It wasn’t always good times playing and training with his father, states Mozzi.

“Sometimes, actually, a lot of times, things weren’t good enough. When I was growing up I often thought, man, he’s being hard on me. But now looking back, if he hadn’t been like that, I don’t think it would have pushed me to be as hardworking as I am today. You can look at that two different ways. You can give up or you can say, oh really? Well, then I’ll try and do better and better. I believe that’s what helped me. I have always aimed to be as good as he was.”

In fact, Csaba was not only influential on Mozzi. Fellow Canadian pro Paul Craig — a former FC Edmonton striker who now plays pro indoor soccer with the Rochestr Lancers — also grew up on Prince Edward Island and benefited from Mr. Gyorio’s guidance. Mozzi and Craig are still best friends.

Mozzi admits it’s harder getting noticed coming from a place like Prince Edward Island.

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Fortunately, his play with the provincial team got him an invitation to the Canadian U-17 side that was coached by Dick Bates, former technical director for Watford and now in charge of the youth academy at Cardiff City.

Call-ups continued to come for Mozzi with the Canadian U-18 and U-20 team as well as trials with the U-23 Olympic squad. He represented Canada at the 2009 Francophone Games in Lebanon.

While Mozzi speaks of his father with a seriousness and reverence, when he talks about his mother Irena, a smile falls across his face. It’s not that he doesn’t have a deep respect for her as well. He does. He explains that her qualities of positivity and perseverance are traits he often falls back on as he tries to find his way as a professional.

“She’s very strong and fights through everything,” say’s Mozzi, explaining that when she moved to Canada she had to go to school and learn a new language, a new culture and find a new profession. “Any troubles we were hit with as a family, she always took a positive attitude and taught me never to give up.

“When you are older, you think more seriously about life and you put things into perspective. You think about leaving your home, your friends and everything you own? Knowing that my family did that I know this life as a professional player is doable.”

Mozzi explains that both his parents always supported and encouraged him to follow his dreams, even if that meant leaving home at an early age to pursue his dream. Those travels have not always been easy for Mozzi. His early months in the Netherlands with Nijmegen Eendracht Combinatie (NEC) were some of the lower times in his life. The Dutch side invited him after seeing a 17-year-old Mozzi perform well with the Canadian National U-18 team.

He moved to the Netherlands, playing for the NEC U-19 reserve team. He played without a contract because he was still a youth player.

But, when he turned 18, Mozzi couldn’t sign for NEC because he didn’t have a Dutch passport and knew he’d struggle getting a visa.

Mozzi performed well for NEC and helped his team win the league title, yet his early days in the Netherlands were dark. “I was living in a one-room hotel room, not knowing the language. I’d go to training, I’d come home and that was it.”

The young midfielder explains he saw himself through those difficult times by falling back on another family hardship, the death of his brother Shaul, who was killed in an automobile accident when he was only 12.

”I remember that day like it was yesterday,” says Mozzi, whose speech slows from his earlier enthusiastic cadence. “July 17, 2002. You don’t forget those sorts of events. He was 17 and was supposed to go to England that next year to play. He was my best friend and my brother – my role model. He was the best soccer player I’d even seen. I could see how hard this was on my parents. We all tried to support each other and I believe it brought us even closer as a family. We’ve had to help each other through some really tough times. We only had each other.

“It’s part of why I never stopped playing,” explains Mozzi. “He wouldn’t want me to stop; he’d want me to be the best I could be. You don’t want to tell your family and friends how low you really are. And listen, you hit some really low times. I would just think, my brother’s watching me, he believes in me. So just keep going.”

Mozzi did keep going. Coming home he attended San Jacinto College and was noticed by Paul Dalglish, Houston Dynamo academy coach. Mozzi was asked to stay with the academy while he attended school and played for the Coyotes.

Dalglish eventually became the coach of first-year NASL team, FC Tampa Bay. It was there Mozzi signed his first professional contract. He went on to play 44 matches with Tampa, coming on strong the second year, with two goals in 26 games and 22 starts.

Mozzi explains that when he was in Tampa, he heard Toronto FC might be interested in him. He always passed it off as rumour. What is true is that Hungarian-speaking Peter Vermes of Sporting KC did offer the midfielder a contract after a trial in the spring of 2012. Mozzi turned down the contract for several reasons. He was 21 and didn’t feel he wanted to get tied down to the four-year contract he was offered. Also, he’d just gotten word he would be receiving his Hungarian passport. With strong family ties to Hungary, and a father who had played professionally in Europe, it was important for Mozzi to claim his passport and give Europe a shot.

After receiving the passport, Mozzi packed his bags once again and headed to England for trials. But they were far and few between, and discouragement started to set in once again.

Finally Fleetwood Town of the English fourth division offered him a contract. He played there for six months but was not asked to stay on after the 2013 season, citing a difference in playing styles as being the issue.

Mozzi states he would love to get a call up to Canada again someday. But he understands the reality of his present situation. He falls back on a phrase that has become a theme in his life.

“You’ve just got to keep going and keeping pushing forward,” says Mozzi. “I’d be very proud to represent my country. But, for now, I’m just focused on enjoying the game again and representing Minnesota United FC the best I can.”

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