Soccer takes Isaiah Lee on a journey of a lifetime

MCC's Isaiah Lee, middle.
MCC's Isaiah Lee, center, dribbles between two defenders as a member of Trinidad and Tobago's Under-20 team at the CONCACAF championship last month in Bradenton, Florida. Lee scored twice as T&T defeated Puerto Rico 5-1. Photo from ttfootball.org.

It's been a whirlwind few months for Monroe Community College student-athlete Isaiah Lee.

The 19-year-old from Valencia, Trinidad and Tobago, has gone from Rochester, to Florida, to the Middle East, and back to Rochester.  And he has the game of soccer to thank for the opportunity.

The journey began in early August, as the forward reported to Monroe Community College to begin the fall season as a member of the MCC men's soccer program. Already in the player pool for the U-20 national team for his home country, Lee entered training camp as one of head coach Nelson Cupello's top recruits.

It didn't take long for Lee to distinguish himself on the pitch in Rochester.

"Isaiah was that player who brought some professionalism to the team," said Cupello, who enters retirement after coaching his 30th and last season with the Tribunes this fall. "The fact that he was on the U-20 national team showed all of his teammates how to train to get to that level. It was contagious."

The Tribunes started the season 2-1-0 heading into a home matchup with Nassau CC on Sept. 15.  Lee left that game late in the first half with an injury and attempted only one shot in a contest Monroe would lose, 4-3, in double overtime.

Sitting at .500 and hitting the middle part of the schedule, the Tribunes were at a bit of a crossroad. They received good news when Lee was cleared to play, and he was the catalyst for a six-game winning streak that would propel the team toward the postseason.

To say Lee was the key behind the streak would be an understatement. He scored at least two goals in all six games, including a pair of hat tricks, before the run ended with a loss to Mercer County. The surge brought Lee's season goal total to 19. However, he would not score another for MCC the rest of the year.

In the midst of Monroe's winning streak, Lee got a call from the administrators of the Trinidad and Tobago Under-20 team that was preparing for the upcoming 2018 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Bradenton, Fla.  The competition would determine the four CONCACAF representatives at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland, and the team wanted Lee to play.

"It was hard, because I was having a great season (at MCC)," said Lee of his decision to accept the invitation. "It was very difficult. But I felt excited for the opportunity to play for my national team."

After consulting with his coaches and professors, Lee left Rochester to train with his Trinidad and Tobago teammates in Florida for the tournament, which was set to run from Nov. 1-21.

Once again, it didn't take long for Lee's talents to emerge and for him to make an impact. He came on in the second half of the team's opener against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and assisted on a dramatic, game-tying goal in stoppage time. Trinidad would win the game 3-2 on a goal a few minutes later.

"I collected the ball outside the 18 and crossed it to (Mark Ramdeen)," Lee said of his assist. "I felt confident. I've played with most of the players already."

Next up was a contest with Puerto Rico, and this time around, Lee was in the starting lineup. He justified the decision of the coaching staff by scoring two goals in a 5-1 victory.

"Coach wanted fresh legs and told me I would be starting." Lee said about his move to the first 11. "I Just wanted to be confident and play my game."

Trinidad and Tobago took on the United States in the next game of the tournament and were on the losing end of a 6-1 final. Lee scored Trinidad's lone goal.

"Some of the players were a bit nervous, because they are the host nation and one of the strongest in the group," he said. "I just wanted to keep pushing forward and stay focused."

T&T then dropped a 2-0 decision to Suriname before closing play with a 3-0 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands. Lee scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the finale.

His stellar play at the CONCACAF championship resulted in an opportunity of a lifetime. Lee was invited to play with Trinidad and Tobago's senior team in an international friendly in Iran. He made his debut when he came on in the final 10 minutes of the match.

"It was great development for my future," Lee said of his chance to play at the highest level for his country. "It was a great experience and hopefully it opens up a lot of opportunities."

Lee has since returned to Rochester and Monroe Community College to finish up the semester. He did miss MCC's postseason run, which included winning the Region III championship before the Tribunes fell to Massasoit 1-0 in the Northeast District semifinals. It was a tough end to the season, and it's easy to wonder what could have been had Lee been in the lineup.

"Isaiah made everyone around him better," Cupello said. "That's what made him so valuable to us when he was on the field. We really missed him when he left to represent his country."

Lee's ultimate goal is to play the game he loves at the professional level, either in the MLS or in Europe. His experience this fall has certainly helped open doors, as scouts couldn't help but take notice of his abilities. He is quick to credit his time at MCC with helping him achieve new heights.

"I learned a lot at MCC," Lee said. "Coach (Cupello) taught me a lot in my tactical game. Getting to play for him and MCC has been a great experience. I'm grateful for every opportunity."