USD men’s soccer: a global organization
To say that soccer is an international game would be a bit of an understatement. For the rest of the world, the sport is bordering on religion. Travel to any other country on the planet and mention the word football to one of the locals, and your conversation partner will surely be thinking of the sport filled with corner kicks and headers rather than touchdowns and big hits.
The University of San Diego men’s soccer team is a great reflection of the sport’s global popularity. This year’s edition of the Toreros features 10 players that hail from other countries. Head coach Seamus McFadden, who is from Ireland, has six players from Germany, one from Sweden, one from England, and one from Costa Rica. With so many players from so many different parts of the world, building chemistry and camaraderie would seem like a challenge. Luckily, the team has been able to come together over their shared love of the sport they call the beautiful game.
Freshman defender Henry Lander spoke about how the team has taken shape despite having such a diverse cultural makeup.
“The team is gelling very well,” Lander said. “We have a lot of new freshmen so we’re going through a transition phase to try and understand everybody’s strength and weaknesses and work well together as a team. I believe we can do well this season.”
Through six games, the team has compiled a 2-2-2 record. The season started in Durham, N.C. at the John Rennie Nike Invitational Tournament. Their first game of the year presented a significant challenge, as they opened against the Duke University Blue Devils, a team that has put together a 36-29-13 record over the last four seasons. Hoeckendorff netted the only USD goal as the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw in double overtime. In their next games two days later, the Toreros topped the Elon University Phoenix by a score of 2-1.
One of the biggest adjustments for the international players is learning how to adapt to the style of play that American colleges use. Freshman defender Henry Lander, who grew up in England, spoke about that transition.
“From my short time here at USD the soccer I have experienced has been a lot more physical and direct compared to back home,” Lander said. “Players out here are a lot more athletic, [and] the tempo is a little slower so you tend to have more time on the ball.”
Following the tournament in North Carolina, the boys in blue traveled to Santa Barbara to take on the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Gauchos. On Sept. 2, the date of the game, the Gauchos were ranked as the No. 10 team in the nation. UCSB put that talent on display in the 5-2 whitewashing of the Toreros. The clash with the Gauchos was the first of many non-conference matchups against the country’s elite soccer programs. On Sept. 25 the squad will head east on I-8 for a battle against the San Diego State University Aztecs, followed by a trip even further east to play the University of Maryland Terrapins on Oct. 3. Both of those teams are currently in the top 12 of the National Soccer Coaches Association poll.
Of course, coming to play for the Toreros not only means getting accustomed to a new school and new teammates. The players who arrived here from overseas must also get to know an entirely new city.
Lander is a native of Bournemouth, England, which he said does not share many similarities with San Diego.
“Living in San Diego is a good experience,” Lander said. “The school is amazing and the campus is beautiful. It’s a lot different to what I’m used to back home but I like it here!”
One of the beauties of playing a team sport is that each game and each practice presents an opportunity for members of the team to grow closer to one another. Lander shared that the reputation of USD as one of the country’s top academic schools also drew him to pack his bags and come stateside.
“What caused me to leave home and come to USD was the opportunity to play soccer at a very high standard,” Lander said. “[I’m also able to] gain a top education alongside it.”
In the team’s most recent win, a 3-0 triumph over the Sacramento State University Hornets, junior midfielder Djordje Babic of Datteln, Germany knocked home a one-timer off an assist from sophomore forward Allen Luhrs. Through six games, players born in other countries have accounted for 37 percent of the team’s total goals and 40 percent of its assists.
Moving forward, the team will need to get production from the entire roster if they want to compete in the talented West Coast Conference. As of the Sept. 13 rankings, the conference rival Gonzaga Bulldogs are ranked No. 20 while the University of Portland Pilots received an honorable mention. If the Toreros are able to put together a strong season that results in a third straight finish atop the conference standings, it will do wonders to attract even more international talent.
Written by Matthew Roberson, Sports Editor