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Neil Shaka Hislop: A World of experience
Just four years ago at the FIFA World Cup in Germany, one of the members of the Quinnipiac men’s soccer coaching staff had the privilege to participate in one of the world’s most anticipated sporting events. This season he volunteered to be the goalies’ coach and trained one man who has a world of potential.
Neil Shaka Hislop was brought on board the Bobcats coaching staff at the beginning of the 2009 soccer season as a volunteer assistant to head coach Eric DaCosta. But before he arrived at Quinnipiac, he went through a career that many soccer players can only dream about.
After 14 seasons of professional soccer in England, Hislop participated in the 2006 World Cup, an event that most professional soccer players see as the most prized event in international soccer.
“It was easily the proudest experience of my career,” the former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper said. “I played in England for quite some time, but there’s no higher stage than international football.”
But what made Hislop even prouder was the fact that it was the country’s first ever World Cup appearance. And with approximately 1.5 million people on the island, it was also the smallest country to ever qualify for this big event.
“To be a part of a historic World Cup for Trinidad and Tobago, really, you can’t put it into words of what it means,” Hislop said. “No one can ever take that away from you. As much as it’s firmly set in our memories, it’s also now recorded in the history books.”
Hislop was born in England and grew up in Trinidad and Tobago before coming to the United States to play soccer for four years at Howard University from 1988-1992. He began to make a name for himself as a freshman, when he led his undefeated Bison into the NCAA Division I Championship game before falling to Indiana University. Throughout the rest of his career at Howard, Hislop gained NCAA awards and was seen as one of the top goaltenders in the nation.
After graduation, Hislop signed a professional contract with Reading F.C., the club that played in the second division of professional soccer in England. After three seasons as one of the best goalies in the division, he was moved to Newcastle United of the Premier League. He was transferred for a goalie record fee of 1.5 million pounds.
Hislop spent 14 years playing soccer in England before rounding out his career in the MLS. After the World Cup he left England and joined FC Dallas for two seasons starting in 2006.
“With all the experience that Shaka comes with, someone who’s played on the level that he’s played at, to have him on staff is a phenomenal resource for us to have at that point,” Da Costa said. “He was one of the top goalkeepers in the world and he competed in the World Cup, and it’s great that he could share that with our players.”
After retiring from professional soccer in 2007, Hislop moved to Hartford and began working as a soccer analyst for ESPN. With his family still in Dallas and a ton of free time, Hislop wanted to stay connected with the sport he had played for so long.
“I know Dennis Lue Yat who works for Residential Life at Quinnipiac, and he put me in touch with the coaching staff,” Hislop said. “When I talked to Eric, I offered my services as a goalkeepers’ coach. I just wanted to keep myself in touch with the game.”
At Quinnipiac, Hislop also knew that he would meet one of the most talented goalkeepers in the nation. Even before volunteering for the Bobcats soccer team, the former World Cup goalie had heard of Freddy Hall, Quinnipiac’s senior first-team all-NEC goalie, and knew of the potential and promise he had shown. He was very excited to help Hall, especially because he saw some similarities between the two them.
“Freddy reminds me a lot of myself at the same age,” Hislop said. “He’s a far more talented goalkeeper than I was at that age.”
Hall’s coach agrees, and thinks that having Hislop around gave the Bermuda native a model to follow.
“If you look at the two of them, Freddy is on the exact same path that Shaka was on,” Da Costa said. “Shaka came from a different country, played at the Division I level, both had standout careers, and they’re both from islands. Shaka at his point in college was also one of the top goalkeepers in the country, and now Freddy can look at Shaka as a guy who’s taken the same path.”
Hall is planning on pursuing his soccer career after graduation, but for now he is staying humble and is having a hard time finding any similarities between him and a national hero.
“Similarity-wise, we’re both from islands, but that’s about it,” Hall said. “I haven’t done nearly as much as he’s done. He’s gone professional, so I can’t really see any similarities between us.”
Right now Hall says the goal is to go play abroad after the graduation. He said a few teams in England are interested, and that’s in large part due to Hislop’s help.
“He’s had a big role in it,” Hall said. “When they hear the name Shaka over there it carries a lot. He’s played a huge role in helping me find teams are interested.”