Five players on the No. 15 Loyola men’s soccer team’s 25-man roster (11-1-1, 4-0-1) are from countries outside the United States: Elliot Collier and Jordan Valentic-Holden from New Zealand, and Fabian Lifka, Marius Kullmann and Matthieu Braem from France. Those players are among 12 international athletes walking around Loyola’s campus.
Collier, a junior forward, is from Hamilton, New Zealand, and came to the United States to play soccer for the Ramblers. He said he attended a soccer academy in his home country before coming to Loyola but that the sport is played with a different style here in the States.
“It’s a different physicality,” said Collier. “It’s much more higher paced and physically demanding than back home.”
Whenever athletes decide to play sports at the collegiate level, they must go through a recruitment process in order to play for the NCAA. Men’s soccer head coach Neil Jones, who is also from New Zealand, said YouTube, Skype and recruiting websites have made it easier to recruit players from across the world.
Jones said he has many connections in his home country and men’s soccer associate head coach Nate Boyden has connections in Germany from when he played there professionally.
The recruiting process for a foreign-born player is basically the same as recruiting an athlete from within the United States. Coaches watch videos of athletes — whether via submissions or on YouTube — and they talk to the athletes on the phone. From there, they assess the athletes’ personalities and go to those students’ countries to watch them play if the team is interested in bringing them on the roster. Finally, select athletes are asked to visit Loyola, which is when they start deciding what school they want to attend.
Both foreign-born and U.S. athletes must register with the NCAA eligibility center. But what sets international athletes apart from U.S. athletes in this process is the difference in academic standards between other countries and the United States. Foreign athletes have to provide extra academic documents to ensure that they meet the NCAA standard. The NCAA requires athletes to provide different sets of documents depending on their home countries.
International athletes also have to apply for student visas and renew them yearly to avoid deportation.
After getting accepted into accredited American universities and then proving their NCAA eligibility, international athletes from non-English speaking countries are required by most universities to pass an English proficiency test. This requirement exists at Northwestern University, Depaul University and Loyola. Loyola’s international athletes have no problem passing the test, according to Jones.
“They blow that out of the water,” he said.
Jones said Boyden sometimes speaks German when giving coaching tips to the German players, a habit that Jones appreciates. But Jones joked that there’s one thing he doesn’t like about it.
“I never know what he’s saying,” he said.
Collier said the hardest part about playing collegiate soccer in the United States is maintaining his grades. The exercise science major said he plays soccer because he loves it, but school is the biggest challenge for him, which makes his overall experience abroad that much more difficult.
“Back home, especially when I was at the academy, I was just playing soccer,” said Collier. “When you come here and you have to keep up with schoolwork and keep your grades up, that’s the hard thing.”
But why Loyola? Collier said he wanted to go to school in Chicago because he was intrigued by its diversity. He also said he liked what he saw in the program Jones was building.
“It was an up-and-coming program,” said Collier. “I thought it was a good fit overall.”
It also ended up being a good fit for Collier. In his first two seasons, Collier scored six goals and four assists. In nine games this season, Collier has found the back of the net five times and tallied two assists.
As for adjusting to U.S. culture, the New Zealand native said his transition has been smooth and the experience has helped him grow not only as a soccer player, but also as a person.