Passing Through Customs : Cypriot Danny Daniels Has Mastered Soccer but Not Many Other Aspects of American Life

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The name change and the earring are immediate giveaways. Yes, Danny Daniels, a.k.a. Haratch Danielan, has adapted to American ways since his arrival in Northridge three years ago. But make no mistake, Daniels is a Cypriot at heart.

A citizen of Cyprus, an island nation off the coasts of Turkey and Syria, Daniels comes from a world in which sons obey their fathers, even if it means putting off their dreams.

At Vahram Danielan's insistence, his son came to America to pursue a college education. If not for Danielan's intervention, Daniels likely would be playing for a professional soccer team in Cyprus or Greece rather than scoring goals for Cal State Northridge.

"I had a big argument with him," said Daniels, whose father could not afford a college education. "The only argument I've ever had with him in my whole life.

"My dad said: 'No education?' "

"I said: 'So what. My dream is not to make a million dollars. I want to have fun and make money to live.'

"Then my dad said: 'What if you hurt your knee and your soccer career is over?'

"I said: 'I can die tomorrow. I want to have fun with soccer first. When it is over, there's a lot of things I can do.' "

Daniels' determination to play was born of two experiences, those of his uncle and his teacher.

"My uncle (Minas Danielan) played only two years in the pros," Daniels said. "When I asked him what happened, he never gave a reason."

"My teacher, Mr. Hatchikos, was a goalie. He broke his leg. He's 42 now and he still says he should have gone back. He told me not to make the same mistake. He told me to go for it."

But Daniels' father would not bend, so his son came to Southern California to live with older brothers Jack and Mark. Because he could not speak English, Danny could not gain admission to a university. After a year of practice, primarily with Jack's former mother-in-law, he learned enough of the language to be admitted to CSUN, where he immediately joined the soccer team.

"I had a nightmare understanding English," Daniels said. "Even in my own language (Cypriot) I'm not very good. I always tell the teachers from the beginning that English is my second language so you might find some silly mistakes in my papers."

Several of Daniels' teammates chuckle when they recall the time he was pulled over by a police officer while carting them around town.

"The cop asked for my papers and I told her: " 'Well, I just shampooed my car'," Daniels said. "She thought I was drunk. What I was trying to tell her was that I took the registration out when I washed my car."

The language adjustment is one of many Daniels has made. He says he still doesn't understand America's work ethic, although his schedule--school, soccer and a job as a waiter--appears to emulate it.

"When I came here, I was shocked," Daniels said. "All people do is work, work, work. There's too much pressure. I'm not used to that.

"For people over here it's gotta be Friday or Saturday to have a crazy day. Over there (Cyprus) Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, whenever you want to party, you party. If you don't go to work one day, no big deal. If you can't make it, you can't make it."

Daniels' manners also have required an alteration.

"The customers in the restaurant say, 'Don't call me sir'," Daniels said. "I say, 'What do you want me to say, 'Hey, fella'?"

Fortunately, Daniels is outgoing as well as polite. It has served him well as a stranger in a strange land.

"Girls I have no problem with, but the way they behave I am not used to," he said. "I am a jealous guy and they hug other guys. And they say anything they want. Personal stuff. It is kind of embarrassing."

Daniels, a sophomore, has less difficulty relating to his teammates, but he does not openly share his pro aspirations with them for fear of appearing to be a braggart.

Where he comes from, it is de rigueur-- skilled players turn pro right out of high school, and, in some cases, during high school. By the time Daniels, 20, leaves CSUN he will be middle-aged, in terms of a Cypriot or Greek pro soccer career.

Despite that disadvantage, Daniels hopes to catch on with a pro team after college.

"That's my dream: To play soccer and get paid for it," he said. "I still have time. It all depends on me.'

In the meantime, Daniels is showing that he can play the U. S. game.

In only his second match of the season, Daniels scored the tying goal in overtime against 19th-ranked Washington. A week later, he tallied both goals in a 2-0 victory over Southern California College. Despite missing 3 1/2 games because of a strained Achilles' tendon that continues to pain him and requires daily treatments, he is tied with Steve Linhart for the team scoring lead with eight points.

"When I play soccer I forget everything," Daniels said. "No matter how frustrating the game, I don't get peeved. I have fun."

From the beginning, soccer set Daniels apart from a family that had difficulty staying together.

Daniels' two brothers and their sister, Mary, were born in their father's native Italy. But he and another brother, Heros (Harry), were born in Kuwait while his father was there doing business as a clothing salesman.

Until their late teens, Danny and Harry didn't know their older brothers, who were in school in Italy. For several years their father also lived part of the time in Italy because that's where his business took him.

Although Danny's mother, Mary, traveled to Italy with her children for visits, Danny missed many of those trips because of tournaments in Switzerland, Austria and Egypt as soccer became more and more important to him. During one stretch, he was away from his family for six months. That experience helped prepare him for the move to the United States, but there were still adjustments to be made.

"The feeling is different," Daniels said. "I knew I would see my mom in a few months, but I know now I won't see her for several years."

His parents phone as often as they can, however.

"When my dad calls, all he wants to hear about is school," Daniels said. "I tell him 'School is fine. Come over here and see one of my matches.' "

While Mary attended most of Daniels' matches in Cyprus, Vahram has seen his son play only twice--many years ago.

Danny would like nothing better than to have them in the stands at CSUN. Of course if they come to the United States to visit, Daniels will be minus one accessory: In deference to his father, he won't be wearing the earring.

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