Just as quickly and unexpectedly as dynamic senior Tiron Shatku showed up on Freehold Township boys soccer team, that is the way he is departing the team.

The news is great for Shatku - who did not play high school soccer before the first two games of this season - and a little more complicated for his high school squad: the senior, former Philadelphia Union Academy Club member and Penn State verbal commit is heading overseas for a pair of tryouts for professional clubs in Europe, according to Freehold Township head coach Josh Mehl and first reported by Brian Deakyne of NJ.com.

Shatku will leave for his first tryout in early November, which coincides with the NJSIAA Tournament sectional semifinals and finals.

Freehold Township senior Tiron Shatku. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

 

"I am proud of him and thrilled for him," Mehl said. "I think it was a shock that he wound up on our team to start the year but it still stings to have a player of his caliber and lose him as quickly as we did. He is the best player I have seen on a high school soccer field so to have him end up here was extremely fortunate to begin with.

"Even the guys on the team were thrilled for him. It wasn't a disappointment - they are genuinely excited for him."

According to Mehl, Shatku initially offered to stay with the high school team until it was time for him to head to Europe but after discussing it further with Mehl and his family, decided to step away from the Patriots for the rest of the year.

"I told him I didn't think it was fair that he keeps playing for us, as much as we would have loved for him to stay," Mehl said. "Firstly, I could never look myself in the mirror if he were to get hurt playing for us and it cost him his opportunity. Secondly, it's also not fair to the rest of the team - to give them two months playing with (Shatku) and then when the state tournament comes, they have to figure out how to win without him. I just thought this was best for him and for us going forward and I think he ultimately agreed."

Mehl expressed concern for Shatku's health while playing the high-school game, an increasing concern for high-level players who are considering major Division I programs or professional opportunities.

"A lot of players like him and even guys who aren't as good as him look at the way the high school game is played and they decide it's not worth the risk," Mehl said. "And even if the player wants to play high school, he has his college coach tell him not to play high school soccer.

"In high school, you can get man-marked by an athlete who is not a high-level player and he fouls you over and over and even when he gets called for it, it's not a yellow card. In academy soccer, if you play like that, you're booked."

Jackson Memorial senior Dan Russo was, according to multiple sources, chosen to play with the New York Red Bulls Academy at the direction of the University of Notre Dame coaching staff, to whom he is committed to play in college. Russo is not playing with Jackson Memorial this year after an All-Shore season as a junior in 2018.

In his two high-school games, Shatku made a lasting impression. He recorded a hat trick in a 5-4, overtime loss at Toms River North on Tuesday night and was dangerous throughout the Patriots' 1-0 loss to Holmdel on Thursday, ripping two shots on goal and another that likely would have been a goal had Holmdel's Mark Walier not raced to deflect Shatku's shot.

Freehold Township senior Tiron Shatku. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

The reviews of Shatku's game by the high school coaches who watched him matched Mehl's assessment.

"That kid was unbelievable," Toms River North coach Joe Mahon said. "He dribbled through my whole team all game."

"(Shatku) is a special player," Holmdel coach Ron Poll said. "I love what I saw from him (Thursday), we were just fortunate a couple of those shots didn't find the back of the net."

Freehold Township still returns the majority of its starting core from last year's 11-5-3 team and will move forward without a game-changing scorer of Shatku's caliber but still with enough pieces to contend for multiple postseason titles.

 

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