What sets Villanova’s men’s football team apart from other university programs is that their star striker started playing football at a community center in Switzerland, and one of his midfielders did. its beginnings in a small fishing village in Iceland.
In a school like Villanova, which brings together most of its students from the tri-state area, it’s rare to meet someone from another country. This is what makes the football team particularly fascinating. So many young men from different parts of the world converge on a Philadelphia suburb to pursue their athletic careers after seeing an opportunity here.
Villanova currently has players from five countries outside of the United States: Switzerland, Iceland, Canada, Ghana and Germany. The rest of the team are largely from New Jersey, New York and Maryland, mixing all kinds of backgrounds.
The soccer team prides itself on this diversity, which creates a blend of cultures that is rare to find in a sports team. And in Villanova, these international players contribute a lot.
READ MORE: After a busy summer Jay Wright is just happy to be back with his team Villanova
Head coach Tom Carlin calls Lyam MacKinnon, a 6-1 forward from Lausanne, Switzerland, “the most talented guy”. And MacKinnon has the stats to back it up – he’s tied for the team lead in goals (3) and assists (2) this season. Last spring, MacKinnon also co-led the team in scoring, contributing two goals and two assists in nine games. Beyond that, MacKinnon is recognized as a leader within his team.
âHe turned it on this year when it comes to leadership,â Carlin said. âHe does a good job of helping himself and helping others, a really motivated young man. He’s one of our best forwards, but also just a gentleman and, you know, a really good person.
MacKinnon being a combination of a good person and a great football player made him a desirable rookie for Villanova. In turn, the Swiss striker learned a different approach to his favorite sport from his American teammates.
âThe competitiveness of people is something I would take away from here and try to learn from here,â MacKinnon said. âThe pace of the game is very different. [In Switzerland] the pace was higher at times, but it was not as changeable as it is here. Here we’re going slowly to really fast, and that was the most important thing to adjust to. “
In addition to learning to play differently, MacKinnon came to the United States to face different challenges and competitions. That’s why Villanova in particular suited him well.
âI love the conference we’re competing in,â MacKinnon said. âIt was, for me, the main thing. I want to attend the best conferences. I want to measure myself against the best in this country for soccer. very high standards here. I wanted to challenge myself on and off the pitch as well. “
The diversity of the Villanova team offers more than talent – team culture is something that players and coaches take pride in and feel unique to their team. Midfielder Viktor Benediktsson of HafnarfjÃ¶rÃ°ur, Iceland has lived in many countries including England, Norway and Sweden and believes the way all the players fit together makes the squad special.
âI always said if there was only one type of human being it would be so boring and everything would be so bad,â Benediktsson said. âI think it makes things more fun, learning about other people’s cultures and countries. It’s something that I think can only make you a better person.
Benediktsson describes his ultimate decision to come and play college football in the United States as a “strange decision”. Maybe that’s because he was planning to sign as a professional in Sweden, before being randomly invited to a showcase tournament in Iceland where Villanova noticed him. In fact, Carlin flew to Iceland, asked Benediktsson to meet him at the airport for an hour and a half, and then returned to the United States after convincing Benediktsson to join the program.
âHe said, ‘I have to go, I have to take the next flight,’ I was like ‘wait, so he came over there, just to talk to me and convince me?’, Said Benediktsson. “And he convinced my mom. So if you can do that, okay.”
This type of recruiting is not unusual as football is a global sport and the most popular in many countries outside of the United States. For this reason, many colleges, including Villanova, recruit heavily from outside the country, which is a slightly different process.
âThere are many different types of agencies that represent these players, and they approach us,â Carlin said. âThey send us videos, they organize showcases. Lots of college coaches travel overseas to go see these players, and some of them recruit from the video, but most of them go to those countries and go to the storefronts watching them. play club matches. So it becomes commonplace. “
READ MORE: Villanova’s Sean Dolan Charts His Own Path in a Philadelphia Running Family
This ever-increasing practice of recruiting outside the United States benefits football programs like Villanova and the players themselves. Teams have talented athletes who are a bit older on their roster, and in turn, players have the opportunity to continue their sport while also graduating and gaining new life experience.
âHaving the opportunity to still potentially have a professional career, but getting a degree is very beneficial for them,â Carlin said. âSo for us to be able to provide that and have a little more veteran players, it’s just a natural fit. And we always try to maintain a balance between local regional players and the mix of some international players. “
Villanova particularly stood out from these foreign actors by its educational value and its proximity to a large city. However, there are some things these players are still getting used to in the United States.
âWhen I first got here what really struck me was the friendliness of the people,â said MacKinnon. âPeople are more talkative than in Switzerland where people are more introverted. The first two weeks, I was like ‘everyone talks to me’, and it was really interesting.
For these players, coming here seemed logical. And they’ve had a huge impact on and off the pitch, while Villanova has proven to be a place worth moving to so far.
“Once [the coaches] convincing you that they believe in you, and that they believe in the vision and that you are part of that plan, then that’s something that’s tempting, âBenediktsson said. “I was like, just, ‘oh why not, what have I got to lose here?”