Men’s soccer continues to develop strong recruiting ties in Europe

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Men's soccer coaches usually plan to visit Europe yearly pre-pandemic to recruit athletes from three to four countries.

Bolstered by the team’s recruiting class, men’s soccer is sustaining its recruiting ties in Europe.

Of the 25-man men’s soccer program, 10 active players traveled to play from Europe, and six of those players were new additions for the upcoming season. Head coach Craig Jones, a Wales native, said he started recruiting close to home in the United Kingdom and then began to branch out over time.

“We’ve had some success with German players, most recently ventured into Iceland,” Jones said. “Some of that is just contacts from talking to other coaches who have had players come out of it, even played against other teams with internationals on there, and how they found these guys and then doing the groundwork.”

The freshman additions shore up an already strong international presence in GW Athletics. The men’s soccer program has developed recruiting ties around the European continent, finding players in England, Germany and Iceland.

In a pre-pandemic setting, Jones said he and his coaching staff make a yearly trip to Europe and hit “three or four” countries. He added that he needs to make the most of the team’s budget to meet players and families face to face.

“I find it difficult to really offer that scholarship to a player that I haven’t seen live or even met his family,” he said. “That’s the important thing for me. That’s why I try to get over to Europe and on to other places for these kids, to meet them, to meet their families.”

Alumni who returned to their home countries can also assist in the recruitment process. Jones said he has asked alumni to assess a league a recruit plays in, and some alumni have reached out about a potential recruit who could be a good fit at GW. Jones added that coaches even stay with alumni during recruiting trips.

“It’s a nice time to drop in and see alumni if we’re in some of these countries,” he said. “It helps with our budget, or lack of budget, I guess. We’re not staying in the hotels, we can stay with some alumni when we’re on some of these road trips.”

To aid in international recruitment, Jones said athletes commit to companies and agencies to help pair them with a college program in America. He said the United Kingdom and Germany have more established companies, whereas the Netherlands, France and countries throughout Africa are developing companies and agencies for potential student-athletes.

He said the agencies assist athletes in understanding academic and amateurism requirements, provide them with a Test of English as a Foreign Language and hold showcases for coaches to watch athletes play.

Freshman midfielder Tim Neumann and senior midfielder and forward Oscar Haynes Brown said they both were involved with agencies to find schools.

“My childhood dream, like every boy’s dream, was to go pro with soccer,” Neumann said. “But at some point in my life, I decided that it would be great to merge athletics with academics.”

Neumann, who joins graduate student midfielder and defender Sandro Weber and freshman defender Aaron Kronenberg as the team’s three German players, said he paired with an agency to find a good academic and athletic fit. He added that he went to showcases and sent recruitment videos to coaches for evaluation.

Neumann said he was one of the first players from his region to head across the Atlantic and play in the United States. As a physics major, he said he had opportunities to study and play soccer in Germany, but the balance between the two was more manageable away from home.

“The school will not really take care of your time schedule in terms of football and vice versa in Germany,” he said. “And here it’s perfectly orchestrated that you’re able to do both at the same time. And I think that’s the decisive factor because I didn’t want to let go of either the university side or the soccer side.”

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Neumann from visiting GW before committing and arriving in August. He said coaches and players kept in contact with him through text and Zoom meetings.

Haynes Brown, an England native, is a veteran of the squad. He missed most of the 2019 campaign with an injury but notched 11 goals and Atlantic 10 All Conference First Team honors in 2018.

Back in England, Haynes Brown played for Ardingly College and was selected to the England Independent Schools Football Association national team four times.

Prior to his recruitment, he said Jones had traveled to England to watch him play for one of the English national teams. He added that he visited a school in San Francisco and was even scheduled to go to school in New York before the offer fell through.

“It was quite a big thing in our school because my school is one of the biggest soccer independent schools in England,” Haynes Brown said. “A lot of people years above me had already gone to America because it was signed to be such a big thing in England.”

Haynes Brown said he met his future teammates – 2020-graduates midfielder Max Holdsworth and defender Gabriel Seemungal – while playing in England. He said he also talked with former players and 2018-graduates midfielder Alex Conning and forward Christian Lawal prior to making the trek to Foggy Bottom.

Upon his visit to GW, Haynes Brown was able to meet with coaches and become acquainted with the area. He joked that a trip to District Commons sealed the deal, but his visit gave him the clarity to commit in March 2017.

“Once I visited, I felt like it was almost more of a, ‘I woke up one day and I knew I wanted to go and take the adventure,’” he said. “And my parents agreed, and they said it felt right.”

The 2020 men’s soccer season was postponed amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the Colonials are set to play their season during the spring. The team’s schedule has yet to be released.

Belle Long and Will Margerum contributed reporting.

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