Calhoun alumna follows soccer dream to Hungary

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Kayla Cappuzzo’s alarm clock rings at 8 a.m. in Hungary — 2 a.m. in America — and she doesn’t hit snooze like many other 22-year-olds. She pops out of bed. The breakfast is also a little different in Hungary, where she was recently signed to play professional soccer. She grabs two hard-boiled eggs and a piece of toast on the way out the door.

She arrived in Hungary on June 30 and started her pro training first thing the following Monday.

After digesting for 20 minutes, Cappuzzo heads to a long day at the gym, followed by a massage for her legs. It is similar to the routine that propelled her through a soccer career at Calhoun High School in Merrick and Northeastern University in Boston.

In Budapest, Hungary’s bustling, old-world capital, she takes the bus across town at 4 p.m. for practice at 4:30. Then, it’s out to the field at 5 for an hour and a half of training before Cappuzzo heads back to the hotel that she temporarily calls home.

“Honestly, it’s a dream come true,” she said. “One of my lifelong goals was to play professional soccer, and I’m just happy to be here in Budapest, and I’m embracing every moment.”

Her father, Michael, said that Kayla has played soccer since she was 5 or 6 years old, keeping pace with her older brother, Michael, who is also a competitive athlete. “They’re four years apart, and just from the competitiveness in the backyard, she was light years above the girls her age,” her father said. “She played with the boys a lot. We took her to play with his friends and eventually his friends said, ‘Don’t bring your sister anymore because she’s too good and she’s showing us up.’”

Kayla’s Calhoun soccer career started when she played varsity in her freshman year — most athletes move up to varsity their junior year. She was named the team’s Most Valuable Player in her first year, and served as team captain for her last two years.

She also played outside school for the Albertson Soccer Club, considered among the nation’s most fiercely competitive. “That’s where she got a lot of her really good training,” her father said. “That’s where the competitiveness came from — playing for Albertson, because they traveled so much” around the country.

College scouts noticed Cappuzzo’s talent as early as her junior year, when she was approached by Northeastern University. “A lot of schools wanted Kayla,” Michael said, “with her national experience and all of the records and accolades she got in high school. But once she saw Northeastern, she was dead set on that.”

Cappuzzo finished a five-year humanities program at Northeastern in four years. Michael said that between summer classes and high school transfer credits, she was able to graduate early and dedicate herself to playing professional soccer.

A pro team from Sweden tried to recruit her, but she decided on MTK Hungarian FC in Budapest. She signed a one-year contract, with the option to renew.

For the Cappuzzo family, keeping up with Kayla’s on-field successes has required sacrifice — but it has been well worth it, her father said. “It’s not only a time commitment, but also a financial commitment, getting her to this level,” he said. “But we never thought twice about it. Just watching her play was joy enough for us to go to these tournaments and watch her excel.”

Cappuzzo has also faced challenges since arriving in Hungary. “The language barrier is extremely difficult,” she said. “The coach doesn’t actually speak any English, so it’s been hard communicating with him, but I have a translator to help me.”

Being away from home and not having her family and friends nearby is another challenge, she said.

Cappuzzo’s team is currently in the qualifiers for the Champions League — which is counted among the top leagues in the world. If she has a solid year, she said, she might be able to play for a more well-known club when her contract is up. Eventually, she would like to coach — “and share my experience with all youth players that have the same dream and goals that I had,” she said.

Cappuzzo might still have several years, however, before she reaches that point. She wants to travel across Europe and live out her dream to play professional soccer.

“For all kids reading this, follow your dreams,” she said. “Anything is possible —just keep working.”