FEATURE: One Big Melting Pot
Sept. 6, 2007
By: Greg Kincaid, Penn State Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Soccer is considered to be a popular sport that is played all over the world. At Penn State, six international men's soccer student-athletes will have the opportunity this season to bring their game to the NCAA level. With players coming from Canada, Venezuela, Brazil, Spain and Iceland, head coach Barry Gorman feels that bringing in these types of players is different, but not too much different than bringing in American players.
"It is like bringing in a player from Florida or New England," Gorman said. "The game is different, like the style of play in Florida is different than the style of play in New England."
Gorman says that the most important thing for the international player to do is adjust and to be patient with the change in the game and culture. "We tell the foreign player coming in, you have to adjust to us," he said. "You're not playing in Brazil, Venezuela or England. You're playing in America and you're playing collegiate soccer. This is the way the game is played here."
The adjustment for international players is not just on the field according to Gorman. "It is also very difficult for foreign players because they don't have that easy access to family support and friends. They are making totally new acquaintances," he says.
From a personal aspect, Gorman says the American players have to adjust to the foreign recruits as well. However, he believes it is not as difficult of a task. "The U.S. players adjust very well to the foreign players," he said. "It's all the other things that the American player is not facing, that the foreign player has to face. He doesn't have the regularly hands-on family support or friends. He's making totally new acquaintances."
As Gorman said, the team does not find it that difficult to function together with new foreign recruits. As a matter of fact, the players view it as an advantage.
"It's not really that hard, we have a similar common interest and theme," said junior co-captain Jason Yeisley, a native of Allentown, Pa. "They bring new ideas. Just from a personal and interactive standpoint, it's great to meet new people from different countries and really get to know them."
Yeisly believes that there is a much different style of play in the United States than other countries. The biggest difference he sees is the pace of play. "A lot of the countries that [the international players] come from have a much prettier game, slowing the ball down, passing," he said. "It's a lot more physical over here. That is just something they have to get used to." The foreign players perspective in the difference of play is quite similar to Yeisly's. "The game here is faster, quicker and physically much stronger," said Brazilian Midfielder Daniel Martini. "It is a huge difference, but you just need time to get used to it."
Beyond the style of play, international players also have seen another big difference, the popularity of the sport. Spain native Jacobo Vera says that soccer is not as popular in the United States, but he does believe that the game is on the rise in America. "Soccer here is not as big as it is in our countries," he said. "I think it is getting bigger and bigger because a lot of people are putting work into it. Also, with [David] Beckham coming to the MLS that is a huge boost for soccer. It's good not only for us international players coming [to the United States], but for everyone here."
Both Martini and Vera decided to come to Penn State not only for soccer, but to get an education as well. "I always wanted to come to the United States to get a major," said Vera. "I always heard that Penn State was a good university, so why not?"
The process which Coach Gorman and his staff go through to recruit international players takes time. However, he says that it is not always the coaches that are doing all the work to get these players. It is the actual player himself, who does a lot of the work. "Believe it or not they recruit us," he said. "We really don't go out and recruit them. We get a lead and we follow up on it."
The travel schedule takes time for the staff as well. Gorman says that the staff gets to see a lot of highlights from video, but he says that videos tend to be a teaser. Recommendations are another way to learn about a player's skill. Gorman says that a recommendation is fine, but it is usually one sided, and the person that writes the letter may not be familiar with the style of play at Penn State.
"We need to see the player play," said Gorman. "Video tapes and DVDs are a way to begin, but nothing beats seeing the player in person. The other aspect is that you can meet his parents, and make sure everyone in his family is 100% behind the move, relocation and adjustment." Gorman says he learns a lot from coaching a team with such diverse cultures. What he has learned the most is patience.
"You know, sometimes the pieces fit together perfectly. Other times it takes a while. You can't rush it," he said. "It's an interesting and exciting experience for everybody involved."