CHAMPAIGN — It was a good thing Caleb Aldridge didn’t have a soccer match last Monday at Field of Dreams.
Not because the Judah Christian senior midfielder is out of shape or missing the touch that led him to News-Gazette All-Area first-team honors in 2018.
He just wasn’t far removed from his latest trip to England.
“I’m still dealing with the jet lag,” Aldridge said with a smile.
The North London native has lived in the United States for about seven years, but when classes let out for summer break, that means a trip to his grandparents’ farm on the England-Wales border.
“It’s a small farm,” Aldridge said. “They only have chickens right now, and a horse as well. But they used to have sheep.”
No soccer pitch on the farm, unfortunately.
So the start of Tribe practices last week meant Aldridge was getting back into the form that helped Judah to a surprise Class 1A sectional final appearance last fall.
“It was great. Kudos to the team,” said Aldridge, who put up nine goals and 16 assists while serving as a vocal presence. “We did lose a few key players, but I think overall we’ll stay the same pretty much.”
Aldridge’s soccer background makes him unique both to the Tribe and the local prep scene.
He’s been playing for roughly 10 years, and there was no doubt it’d come to his forefront.
“My dad grew up in England and he just got me into the sport,” said Aldridge, whose favorite team is Arsenal F.C. “Really loved it.”
When Aldridge’s father, Brian, shifted to a job in veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois, that meant Aldridge had to adapt to a new soccer landscape. He said he’s been to four or five soccer matches in England, but just one since arriving in the States — Liverpool F.C. versus A.S. Roma in summer 2016 at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium.
“It was definitely different,” Aldridge said. “I would say they’re not as enthusiastic over here as they are in England.”
Over time, Aldridge has developed a group of soccer-junkie pals who are willing to meet up for an impromptu game, especially thanks to ties with the Central Illinois United club team.
Again, it’s easy for Aldridge to draw comparisons between pickup matches here and overseas.
“Everywhere you go in England there’s always a game to play,” Aldridge said, “and here it’s kind of hard to play.”
Even so, Aldridge has made his impact on local youth soccer.
Though more intense vibes surrounded his activity in England, Aldridge admitted to being plenty nervous when he first started with Judah.
“My freshman year, it was kind of nerve-wracking because they had a lot of good players,” Aldridge said. “The level was high, so I didn’t really know what to think.”
Aldridge’s comfort clearly has increased since then. He said it’s aided by boosts to his speed and strength, paired with his constant ability to thread a pass through a small space.
The result, on top of the Tribe’s success, is looks from Division I and D-III college programs. Aldridge wants to keep those under wraps for now.
He’s got one last high school hurrah to ready for, after all, that starts at 4:30 p.m. on Monday at St. Thomas More.
“We still have that same bond, if not better than last year,” Aldridge said. “So I think we’ll do pretty well this year.”