Callahan, Lange share talent, expectations
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – They’re separated by some 800 miles, they play soccer for different DODDS schools and teams. But Yuji Callahan and Gaku Lange are similar in so many respects, they might as well be twin sons of different mothers.
They’re seniors. They’ve played soccer virtually all their lives, matriculating in some of the finer Japanese club programs. They’re coached by their fathers. They will play Division I soccer next year, Callahan at Holy Cross, Lange at Pacific.
They’re returning Most Valuable Players who led their teams to Far East Tournament titles last season, Lange for the second straight year. As such, they bear responsibility as both returning MVPs and team captains.
“Because I’ve been through high-level programs, lots of people are expecting me to deliver all the time,” said Lange, the face of Matthew C. Perry soccer, with 123 goals and 47 assists in parts of four seasons.
“So when I step on the pitch, they expect goals and assists, so I have to shoulder that kind of burden.”
“Not many people get the opportunity to carry that weight,” said Callahan, who had 27 goals and 12 assists for Division I champion Kadena a year ago. “It’s pretty awesome. Even though people say it’s a lot of weight, I feel special and unique to carry that kind of weight.”
Coaches and teammates say they hold the two in high regard, with Callahan’s father, Mike, noting that Yuji has taken the lead in helping schedule games for the Panthers.
“Yuji has a lot of experience on the field, he’s an extra coach on the field, he’s well rounded as a player and leader,” Callahan the elder said. “To him, it’s not any kind of burden at all.”
Likewise, Samurai players view Lange as the “core” of the team. “Without him, we wouldn’t really be a team,” senior Calvin Barker said. “He keeps us together, makes sure we play together and he always has comments or criticism about (our play) and I like that part about him.”
Where Callahan and Lange may differ is their approach to the sport. While Callahan seemingly relishes the challenge of wearing the MVP bull’s-eye on front and back of jersey, Lange has taken a more serious, more critical approach at times in the past. It may be because of their soccer backgrounds, which differ as well.
Callahan first hit the pitch when he was 10. “I always had a thing for kicking things. I like kicking balls, round things, play with toys with my feet, so I realized soccer is for me. Everything I have is soccer-related,” he said.
Shortly after, Callahan began training with the Okinawa Diplomats, the youth development program run on U.S. bases. As a freshman, he played club ball for Japan’s third-tier FC Ryukyu U-15 ODP-equivalent program and was also selected to the Okinawa U-15 All-Star team.
That team would travel to various locations in Japan’s main islands, where he was scouted by several top high-school programs, much like colleges recruit in the States. That led him to Nagasaki Institute of Applied Science, where he played and trained in his sophomore year. It was a competitive program of 100 pulled from schools around Japan.
Thus, the team looks to Callahan for leadership and skill development. “He leads by example,” Mike Callahan said. “He’s very good with newer team members, pulling them aside and giving them extra instruction on certain things.”
Lange began playing from about the time he began walking and in his middle-school years, took 2-hour train rides back and forth from Iwakuni to Hiroshima to train with the J-League Hiroshima San Frecce ODP-equivalent program.
“Very challenging days, sometimes dark days,” Lange’s coach-father Mark said, adding the challenge came from the fact that the Japanese system differs sharply from the American system.
“Because of the technical work that’s expected. If you’re injured or aren’t playing well, you drop to the bottom of the charts and you have to work your way back.”
Lange was injured for a year and endured exactly that, having to still take the train trips and rehab with the trainers.
“But it’s all been very good for me,” Lange said. “It’s helped me grow and mature and I’ve realized what the positives are playing for a DODDS high school team. It makes me more appreciative of what I have.”
A conversation Mark Lange had with his son helped transform Gaku from a player at times critical of his teammates into a more positive force. “This is your senior year, enjoy the moments, enjoy the matches and smile when you play,” Mark Lange said he told Gaku. Since that time, things have been pretty good.”
Lange and Callahan played each other last April when Kadena traveled to Iwakuni to play Perry. It’s led to a lasting friendship, players and coaches said. “It was a treat for us, seeing them on the field together,” Mike Callahan said.
The two very nearly ended up committing to Holy Cross together before Lange chose Pacific. Both spoke excitedly about playing college ball.
“That was my goal since I started playing soccer,” Lange said. “Anything after that would be a positive.”