Head coach Paul Holocher has been watching Ariel Lassiter — whose father was a soccer player — since Ari was 14. “Ari grew up with soccer in his blood,” he said. “He is what you call a soccer player’s soccer player. He’s very comfortable on the ball, he loves the game passionately and he wants to go as far as he can in the game.”
Jefferson P. Nolan
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By the age of four, Ariel Lassiter knew he wanted to grow up to be just like his dad.
And as the son of a renowned professional soccer player, it seems fitting that the future Cal Poly winger’s first soccer experience was when the coaches of the Tampa Bay Mutiny told him he needed to leave the locker room.
Ari stood amongst the lockers, the professional athletes towering over the wide-eyed boy.
Ari’s father, Roy Lassiter, was suited in his striped shin guards with the number 11 stitched across the back of his jersey.
“I remember that when the coaches started to talk, I had to leave,” Ari said. “I went to all of the home games, and being in the locker room with his professional teams made me want to live the life of a pro. It made me want to play professional soccer.”
It was another home match at Tampa Stadium for the professional soccer club, and the players and coaches needed to talk strategy before they took to the field.
“He’d always have a soccer ball,” Roy said with a laugh. “Everywhere he went … he always had a soccer ball.”
Born in Costa Rica, Ari lived in the tropical country during the time his father played with Costa Rican clubs AD Carmelita, Turrialba and LD Alajuelense.
But when Ari was three, he and his mother, Wendy, packed their bags and moved to Tampa — Roy had landed a new gig.
It was in a Mutiny uniform that Roy began a career that would eventually make him one of the best forwards to ever play Major League Soccer (MLS). In 1996, his inaugural year in Tampa Bay, Roy recorded a league-leading 27 goals — a record that still stands.
Roy eventually concluded his soccer career after playing nine years in MLS and 14 total years as a professional.
Before coming to Cal Poly, Ari spent time playing for United States national teams. His first experience playing for his country came on the the 15-and-under national team. And in addition to being an alternate for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, Ari was also a member of the U.S. National Team youth player pool.
“At that time, I was one of the only players that was in high school,” Ari said. “Being on the national team is always fun. It was hard work, but it was really nice to wear that jersey and to have that patch on your chest of the national team and be in that scenario.”
At Great Oaks High School in Temecula, Calif., Ari was the recipient of the U-17 Golden Ball award as the most outstanding player at the 2012 United States Youth Soccer National Championships. The four-year letter-winner also finished high school as a two-time Inland Empire High School Player of the Year.
Now a true freshman at Cal Poly, Ari is taking advantage of his time in college to help advance his team and to improve as a competitor.
“I’m just doing whatever I can for the team,” Ari said. “If that calls for goals and assists, then that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’ve got to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
If he can’t get on the score sheet, he wants to get an assist.
If he can’t get an assist, he wants to create space for his teammates to do so.
Nobody appreciates his team-oriented attitude more than the coaching staff.
“Ari grew up with soccer in his blood,” head coach Paul Holocher said. “He is what you call a soccer player’s soccer player. He’s very comfortable on the ball, he loves the game passionately and he wants to go as far as he can in the game.”
Cal Poly’s eight-year head coach took notice of Ari early in his career.
“I saw (Ari) when he was 14, and man, was he tiny,” Holocher said. “He was a little guy, but you could see his skill, you could see his technique and you could see his soccer mind. We kept close tabs on him, and we always wanted him here; we knew he would fit in wonderfully with how we play the game.”
Out of high school, Ari received numerous scholarship offers from top-ranked soccer programs across the United States. The recreation, parks and tourism administration major could have opted to play professionally in Germany.
But Ari made the decision to come to Cal Poly on his own.
“At the end of the day, I’m never going to pressure Ariel to do what he wants to do,” Roy said. “He told me at an early age that he wants to be a professional soccer player. Since then, I’ve been teaching him everything he needs to know. I want him to be able to surpass everything that I’ve ever done.”
And while Cal Poly attracts students and athletes from around the nation with its Learn by Doing approach and San Luis Obispo’s picturesque scenery, those factors had little to do with Ari’s decision to compete on Holocher’s squad.
“The real reason that Cal Poly was so eye-opening for me was because of their style of play,” Ari said. “It’s a very significant way of playing that not too many teams play and even fewer play well. Cal Poly is honestly one of the best teams I’ve seen in college right now in being able to move the ball up and down the field and to keep possession of the ball. That’s why I think we’re currently leading the nation in goals.”
Along with Ari’s five goals this season, freshman Justin Dhillon has also made his mark on the team, scoring a single goal and recording five assists. Mackenzie Pridham continues to lead the team with seven goals, but to the senior forward, it can make a substantial difference when the upperclassmen get assistance on the field from the younger players.
“It’s good to have a few freshmen that can contribute right when they come in,” Pridham said. “It’s definitely rare, but this year, it’s good that we have a few that have stepped up. (Ari) is a very technical player. He’s very good at attacking, and offensively, he’s been creating opportunities for others. We’re just helping them get all parts of their game used to the level and speed of play.”
And after spending his whole life consumed by the sport, Roy continues to remind his son that even if he makes soccer his profession, the game is just that — a game.
“I always tell my son to enjoy himself,” Roy said. “My biggest thing is that he continues to love the game and have a passion for the sport. I never want him to treat it like a job.”
But for the young man who has wanted nothing more than to make the game of soccer a career, it may seem difficult for him to think of it as a job.
“Since I was a little kid, that’s all I wanted to do,” Ari said. “Seeing my dad, I’ve just put that in my brain that I want to be a professional soccer player. So I will, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get there.”