Mobi Fehr has traveled more than 7,000 miles away from his parents, friends and club teammates to fulfill his dream. With many of the people he loves in Tokyo, Japan, he has spent about 10 months in Bradenton, Fla., keeping in touch on Skype or Facebook to make the miles seem less daunting.
Phone calls to and from Japan are, of course, rather expensive. But rarely has an international call been as important as the one Fehr got from his parents on the morning of March 11.
That day, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit the East Coast of Japan. The earthquake and ensuing tsunami had killed more than 18,000 people in Japan. A phone call from his parents at 3 a.m. ET broke the news to U.S. U-17 defender. He tried over and over to get in touch with his Tokyo Verdy teammates and friends.
“I tried calling everyone, but the circuits were busy,” he said.
All he could do was turn on the TV and watch CNN, trying to keep up with everything happening and wondering about his friends. Hours went by before he was able to confirm that his loved ones were safe.
“All of my friends are okay, but a friend of one of my teammates died,” he said. “He was living right in the area where the earthquake hit.”
The literal wake-up call from his parents, and the loss of life in Japan, turned into a profound wake-up call in Fehr’s life.
“I want to do better in everything I do and I’m more thankful for everything I have,” he said.
What Fehr has now, an opportunity to play in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, is not something he takes for granted. His parents will be traveling to Mexico for a rare opportunity to see him play against the world’s best.
It could be an important tournament for Fehr, who wants to move on to the English Premier League someday. Despite being one of the younger players on the team, his life experience – not to mention his three passports and ability to speak four languages – may give him a leg up on his peers at the World Cup.
But even before learning that he’d be traveling to Mexico for this FIFA U-17 World Cup, Fehr’s journey to Bradenton has been anything but ordinary.
His story began in New York City, where a Swiss graphic designer fell in love with a Japanese teacher he met while on vacation. They would eventually start a life together in the Big Apple before moving to her home, Tokyo, to raise their son.
When his small family moved to Japan in 2000, Mobi was six years old. He attended an international school – where they spoke mostly English in classes – and his mom would give him Japanese lessons in the evenings.
“It was a big change, because I couldn’t speak the language at first,” said Fehr. “I had a hard time picking it up and I went to international school there, so my mom had to help teach me the language every day.”
While adjusting to his new life, Fehr started playing soccer at a small club in Tokyo.
“It helped me get into the culture a little bit more and meet new people,” he said.
At the end of fourth grade, Fehr was invited to try out for Tokyo Verdy 1969, a club that had moved to Tokyo about the same time as Fehr and his family. There were more than 300 kids at that tryout, and three, including Fehr, were selected to join the club’s academy system. The young Swiss/American/Japanese defender was ready to make his move.
Every day after school, Fehr traveled to train with Verdy and wouldn’t set home until late at night to begin his homework.
In 2010 while only 16 years old, Fehr found his way onto the U.S. Youth National Team radar. He was invited to a training camp with the U.S. U-17 MNT in Bradenton last summer. After a strong performance during the camp he was invited into Resdidency full time. Just a few weeks later he was back living in the U.S.
“I was more used to speaking English so it was much easier to come here than it was to go Japan,” he said. “Being in Residency was a big change at first and I had to get used to it, but I like training in the morning and then going to school better than going to school for eight hours and then going to training and get home at 11 p.m. every night.”
Still just 16 years old, Fehr hopes that this already-long journey is just the begining.