ENCINITAS — A former San Diego Surf Club player and son of a local snowboarding legend is spending the dog days of summer playing overseas under the Finnish banner.
Gabriel Oksanen, 16, was picked up by the Finland Under-17 Youth National Team for the Nordic Open tournament last week in Norway in preparation for the Union of European Football Associations championships in the Republic of Kosovo this November.
“Playing at this level is what I always dreamed of and I’m really lucky to be doing it,” Gabriel told The Coast News.
When he was 14 and playing for the San Diego Surf Club, Gabriel was scouted by the Philadelphia Union and enrolled in the academy for its junior team. In January, Gabriel transferred to Real Salt Lake’s Academy team.
“Sometimes it’s tough living away from home and from my friends so young, but it’s worth it,” Gabriel said.
“(Jussi) was at the top level with snowboarding,” Zoe said. “So it’s really cool that 26 years later, his son’s representing Finland in a different sport.”
For the European Championships, national teams may scout for the top players that represent that nation. Players under the age of 23 with dual nationalities are permitted to play in more than one country for these high-level tournaments.
If invited (and his club team permits), Gabriel is eligible to play for Finland, England and the United States.
“I feel very lucky to have multiple nationalities; it just opens up opportunities,” Gabriel said, adding that he dreams of one day playing in the Premier League in England.
He’s honored to have been asked to play for Finland as one of the top players in his age level.
“I love Finland and feel really proud to represent the country,” Gabriel said. “I also feel that my dad showed me the commitment and discipline it takes to be an athlete at a high level.”
When he was 6 years old, Gabriel started kicking around a soccer ball, despite his snow-shredding parents’ attempts to pass on the boarder enthusiasm.
“We thought we’d be the surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding family, and he wanted nothing to do with it,” Zoe laughed. “I’ve got photos of my husband skateboarding with him as a newborn in his arms, and he just wanted nothing to do with that.”
Then, when he went to kindergarten, Gabriel asked to join the after-school soccer team.
“He got his cleats for the first time, and it was like he was born for it,” Zoe said. “[The coach] told me, ‘This kid has an unusual touch.’ And he never wanted to do any other sport — that was it.”
So, Zoe and Jussi backed the young all-star’s wishes, which has now brought him across the United States and Europe.
Over the spring semester in Salt Lake City, Gabriel appeared with the Real Salt Lake Academy U-17 team in the Generation Adidas Cup and MLS NEXT Cup. He’s also been pulled up in three matches for Real Monarchs in MLS NEXT Pro.
During his professional debut with Real Monarchs in April, Gabriel played as a halftime substitute in a 3-2 loss to Minnesota United 2 at Zions Bank Stadium in Salt Lake City.
The Finland U17 team, which remained unbeaten until Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Denmark in the Nordic Open, will play its last match of the tournament on Aug. 10 against England.