By Jacob Born | February 5, 2021
Standing out in the waters of the East River and the Hudson, on Liberty Island in the New York City Harbor, is the Statue of Liberty. It welcomes immigrants from across the globe to the United States, a symbol of freedom and opportunity. It was the first sight for many when arriving to the United States for decades and remains a beacon of hope and destiny today.
In the same city, just a few miles north in upper Manhattan, Ray Selvadurai found his own Statue of Liberty: Randall’s Island, home of Manhattan Soccer Club. The club’s Director of Coaching and a part of the organization since 1998, it’s where he spends most of his days. It’s a place of passion, learning, competition and community. It’s where Selvadurai believes he’s doing exactly what he’s destined to be doing in life.
“I call it my vocation, it’s not an occupation,” Selvadurai said. “I don’t see coaching as a job. I see it as something that I just love to do. I always tell people, I’ve been packing a bag, since the age of 12, and heading out to tournaments, games and practices. Now here I am at 48, and it’s the same thing. The game’s done so much for me, and there’s no way I can ever take it out of my life.”
Selvadurai is a New Yorker through and through. He was born in the city proper to first-generation parents. When he was younger, his family moved out to Syosset, Long Island. It was there on the island where he fell in love with the sport, playing it with other kids and parents in the neighborhood.
“We moved into Long Island from New York City in the late ‘70s,” Selvadurai said. “And during that time, there seemed to be a lot of families who were first-generation, and we had a lot of families from different countries that had an appreciation of soccer. So a lot of our dads played from whatever country they came from, and it led to when we were little kids, our dads having a team and going out and competing themselves and us tagging along.”
Those games with neighborhood friends helped Selvadurai develop his talents on the pitch, which he parlayed into a four-year career at Syosset High School, where he was a part of multiple championship teams. The team also received national attention throughout his time when they were ranked in the top 10 in the country.
Following high school, he was recruited by and played for Hall of Fame coach Mike Coven at Brandeis University, where he started in 76 consecutive matches and was team captain his senior season. Upon graduation, Selvadurai jumped across the pond, training with several English clubs. It was in England where he found his post-playing passion.
“That’s where I got my love for coaching, in England,” Selvadurai said. “You know, it was a situation where they were really good in youth development. So I was able to get around some young players at that time and just thought they were a little bit ahead of the game. That’s where coaching became my love and so that I really wanted to come back to the United States and stay involved with soccer.”
When he came home to the United States, Selvadurai returned to New York City, staying in the city he grew up in. He quickly became involved with Manhattan SC as a staff coach, while also attending law school and eventually getting a degree and having a legal career for 14 years.
Balancing a full-time career while also indulging in his coaching passion was difficult for Selvadurai. He never really felt like he was giving as much as he could to either profession. So when Manhattan SC decided to hire a full-time staff and tapped Selvadurai to be the director of coaching, it was the easiest “yes” of his life.
“It’s very hard to excel or really be successful when you’re balancing your interests in different places,” Selvadurai said. “If you have two career paths you’re kind of all over the place. I think when I made that decision, I think I became better at my job because I was just focusing on one job. Having that focus, I thought that my players and my club could benefit from my life decision to go full-time.
“Manhattan Soccer Club offered me a full-time position as director of coaching and I’ve never looked back,” Selvadurai added. “I get to work with a great club and really put my stamp down in terms of player development and working with young people. You try to lay the right foundations and life lessons of not just being great players, but being great young people and making them successful later in life.”
As the Manhattan SC Director of Coaching, Selvadurai is one of the few people of color in an executive role at an elite soccer club. To him, it gives a chance to be a role model for others while also recognizing just how important the game of soccer has been in his life and to give his kids the opportunity to do the same.
“I don’t know what the statistics are, but there are not a lot of directors of coaching of color,” Selvadurai said. “But I’m proud of that fact, that I’m one of them. There are not many of us. To me, though, the sport is colorblind. To me, your ethnic background, where you’re from, your socioeconomic background, it doesn’t matter to me. There’s always a place for you. I always say to other coaches, ‘Instead of kill them with kindness, kill them with competence. It doesn’t matter what color you are, show them your competence.’ I think that’s the one thing about this game that’s so galvanizing, is that it just brings everybody together and race isn’t an issue. I think sports really transcends that.”
Since his hire, Selvadurai has made it his mission for Manhattan SC to be a “community” club. Being one of the few non-profit soccer clubs in the country, Selvadurai and the Manhattan SC executive board has instituted means by which kids from underprivileged areas in New York City can come and play the game. The club has need-based financial aid for players to be a part of the team, and recently, the organization partnered with the Yours in Soccer Foundation and Prestige Prep to form the MSC/YSF Scholars Program to assist players in academics as well.
“We have a scholarship program, where if a player is good enough to be on our teams, we don’t let money keep them from playing,” Selvadurai said. “It’s a social responsibility. Our scholarship program is self-funded, which I think is just a real testament to our community. Our community really wants to open doors for people and really bridge the gap when it comes to socioeconomics and the cost of playing in clubs sports, especially youth soccer. So I’m very proud of that. We’ve also instituted academic support programs. So not only are we looking to bridge the gap between playing but also in academics as well. You know, it’s not just what we do on the field. It’s also what we do for players off the field. And I’m just so proud of that.”
With its scholarship program, Manhattan SC is one of the most diverse clubs in the country. The club has members hailing from all five boroughs of New York City and more than 30 nationalities are represented throughout all age groups. For Selvadurai, it’s vitally important to have that diversity in a club, especially when that club represents one of the most diverse cities in the country.
“It’s important to me because we have this community, and I call it a melting pot, where we have so many different ethnicities,” Selvadurai said. “It’s leveling the playing field and making sure that everyone, every player that comes to our club has the same opportunities that everyone else has, regardless of money. And I think that’s a great mission for our club to have.”
By placing an importance on doing things the right way off the field, Selvadurai has seen success on the field as well. In 2015, Manhattan SC graduated Jack Harrison from the program. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year and attended Wake Forest. In 2016, he was the 1st overall selection in the MLS SuperDraft, playing for New York City FC and in 2018, he signed a contract with Manchester City in the English Premier League.
Harrison is just one of the many success stories that Selvadurai has helped develop during his time with Manhattan SC. From having kids graduating high school to playing collegiate soccer at Division I, II or III programs, to receiving international call-ups, Selvadurai has helped create a legitimate pipeline for Manhattan SC, something he’s very proud of.
“I’m very, very proud of players that leave our club and go on to other soccer avenues, whether it’s college, the MLS Draft, or any other type of pro experience,” Selvadurai said. “Those players that have gone on to pro and college ranks, when they look back at their experience, they felt it was a very positive one. I watch some of their games sometimes and I get emotional because I remember them as kids as young players in our club and the path they’ve taken to get where they are.”
For all that he has done for Manhattan SC and for the sport of soccer in New York City, Selvadurai will be honored by the Randall’s Island Park Alliance at its annual gala in March, where he will receive the Champion for Children Award. As the home of Manhattan SC, Randall’s Island has seen up close just how impactful Selvadurai has been for the kids he’s coached, making him an easy choice for recognition.
“I’m extremely humbled, and I was very surprised,” Selvadurai said. “Randall’s Island, it’s my second home. To have Manhattan Soccer Club and Randall’s Island be celebrated on the same night and to have me there, I never dreamed it would happen. But it’s just a wonderful honor. It’s been 23 years that I’ve been with this club, which is almost half my life. So when you spend half your life in some places and to be recognized with them, I’m just extremely honored and humbled.”
ECNL Boys Commissioner Jason Kutney is not surprised to see Selvadurai receive such an award. He too has seen how major of an impact Selvadurai has on the kids he coaches, from his philosophies on the field to his philanthropy off it.
“Ray Selvadurai represents all that comes from infusing intellect, charisma, empathy, and leadership fully into the development of coaches and players,” Kutney said. “When you couple that with the fact that he is delivering such a positive and meaningful impact in an area like New York City, you truly have a game-changer.”
In his 23 years with Manhattan SC, Selvadurai’s seen thousands of kids come through the program and he’s helped change countless lives. Coaching isn’t just a job, the core of his being. It’s his life’s calling. And he’s got a lot of coaching left in him.
“When I went full time in Manhattan Soccer Club as director of coaching, it was the best decision that I’ve ever made,” Selvadurai said. “I’m not stopping anytime soon.”
If you have any story tips or story ideas, please contact Jacob Born at firstname.lastname@example.org.