The journey started about two months ago. Sitting in my hometown of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania at a trendy coffee shop called Juice and Java, I completed the payment for a combine — a kind of tryout — in Washington, D.C. It was held by Pro Soccer Consulting, an agency in the United Kingdom that likes to bring American players over to Europe for football tours with the intention of seeing them earn trials or contracts with European clubs. I didn’t really know what the combine would offer. Only a few players possess the skills to stand out at a combine. However, I hoped to impress a few European scouts who would be there, particularly those from Scandinavia.
I felt nervous and excited at the same time. Nervous that I had just wasted money, thinking the combine was a long shot. Excited, for the once-in-a-lifetime chance I would have to play in front of Scandinavian scouts. My heart was set on Sweden or Norway, where two of my friends, Bobby Warshaw (Baerum SK in Norway) and Chase Miller (Bodens BK in Sweden), were already playing. “They’re living the life,” I thought to myself. I wanted to escape to Europe, get out of the Georgetown bubble and be somebody.
After graduation, it was difficult to go from one of the top soccer programs in the country at Georgetown to playing with a bunch of guys like me just trying to book a flight overseas. I missed Georgetown already, and I was left longing for a community I knew would be hard to find again.
I was embarrassed after a failed trial for New York Red Bulls II. My stomach felt uneasy, and I doubted myself. But, even though life had dealt me a lemon, it was sweet instead of sour. I accepted a tour and booked a flight for my next adventure: a 12-day tour in Sweden and Norway. This was going to be my chance to earn a roster spot with a football club in Scandinavia.
Life has a funny way of completely altering your intended course. It’s good to have a plan, but it’s even better to remain open about the plan changing, because there’s always the certainty of the unexpected. When I landed in Stockholm, Sweden it was cold enough for long sleeves and pants, but nowhere near cold enough to deter me. I yearned for a contract there.
Besides eating the same salad, dressing and really weird salty meat for 10 days straight, the trip went as well as I could’ve hoped. I scored arguably the best goal of my life in the first game. I rejoiced inside. It was a dream start. I was on cloud nine in Orebro SK’s stadium. Scouts watching, coaches watching, I fist-pumped after the shot. I even pulled my shirt over my head — yellow card.
A few days later, a Swedish Premier League side Orebro SK sent a scout to watch me play. Unless I had a perfect game, I wouldn’t find myself playing in the Swedish Premier League. Heart thumping, head on a swivel looking for the scout, I was antsy. The whistle sounded. I scored in the first 15 minutes that game, but the scout didn’t arrive until the 22nd minute. While I was so stoked about my game, I immediately felt disappointment upon hearing this news. Sure enough, Orebro signed two Swedish wingers the next day. I couldn’t even get a trial. My big opportunities were evaporating. I needed another spark.
Everyone needs a mentor; someone who’s been there, who’s done it. Someone who can give you comfort when all you feel is uncertainty. Thankfully, Bobby was just a 20-minute metro ride from Oslo. We walked, we talked, we even had kebab together. At the end of it all, I felt comfortable. I was pursuing a dream I’d had for a long time, and there would be nothing to hang my head about if nothing worked out. That night in Bobby’s pad, I prayed. Prayed that I wouldn’t become selfish, prayed that I would be humbled by even having an opportunity to travel and play football in Europe. I prayed that I would trust in His plan for me, no matter what the circumstance. I felt peace, I felt okay. And the fire still burned.
Five minutes into the game against FC Lyn Oslo I rocked my kneecap going in for a tackle. I wanted to punch a wall. I wanted to walk off the field right then and there. Instead, I hobbled for 40 minutes, the remainder of the half, knowing a scout was there. It hardly mattered. While the game only ended 1-0, we got worked. Possession wasn’t even close, and I maybe saw the ball a few times. Another big opportunity seemed to fall through.
Later that evening, Mark Miller, a Maltese coach on the trip, called me and told me to come to the hotel for a chat. I remained patient. I was done assuming. I walked to the hotel to find all of the coaches sitting in a big circle waiting for my arrival. “You have an offer from Pembroke Athleta FC in the Maltese Premier League.” Wait a second, now we’re talking about Malta? Immediately, Mark filled me in, telling me that “my” team was promoted this year, that we’d be a new club to the premier league with a lot of good signings that would keep us in the league rather than facing relegation as most people would expect.
I left home thinking Sweden and Norway. But like I said, life has a funny way of altering your intended course. I hopped on the plane in Oslo, transferred to a new plane in Brussels, and at 10:30 p.m. on July 31, which happened to be my dad’s birthday (what a gift), landed in Luqa, Malta. I was dripping sweat in a matter of minutes. Rather than waking up to cobblestone and fresh air, I wake up to humidity and sand because I live two minutes from the beach.
Preseason is almost over, and the season starts Aug. 21, but I still feel as though I’m on vacation. This island is beautiful. Google doesn’t lie. Who would have thought a small-town kid from Mechanicsburg would be starting his career on an island just south of Sicily? I’d say nobody. Merhba lill Malta!
Austin Martz is a Class of 2015 graduate from the McDonough School of Business. He currently plays for Pembroke Athleta FC in the Maltese Premier League. You can read more at his blog: https://austintaylormartz.wordpress.com/
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