Soccer’s international players make a world of difference

5 – minute read

When it comes to international flavor, Florida Gulf Coast University’s soccer program is a smorgasbord of global influences.


The men’s team boasts 12 players from eight countries: Australia, Israel, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Barbados, Spain and Canada. For the women, six student-athletes represent five countries outside the U.S.: Sweden, Canada, Spain, Norway and Germany.

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Some of the men's soccer team's international players: Luke Barforosh of Melbourne, Australia; Alejandro Lopez, Madrid, Spain; Shoki Yoshida, Hyogo, Japan; and Pau Santanach, Barcelona, Spain.

This melting pot is no coincidence. Soccer is the most-played sport worldwide, and having players of different playing styles and techniques can only benefit the Green & Blue, according to coaches.


“Creating a team that is more global and having a team that is diverse — they bring a lot of cultures to the overall experience,” said Jesse Cormier, the men’s head coach. “Obviously, there are talented, creative players developed in countries around the world, and I think all of it is centered on a team working and learning from each other.”

Cormier has stats to back up his claim about talent. The Eagles’ top goal scorer last season, for instance, was Davi Alves, a midfielder from Belo Horizonte, Brazil.


Players aren’t the only ones contributing to the Eagles’ global vibe. On the sidelines for the women is newly appointed women’s assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Jamie Souza. From Ipswich, England, he brings an international perspective and two successful seasons in the same roles at Rollins College. He holds his UEFA B license, a bachelor’s degree in coaching performance in soccer and the FA Goalkeeping qualification, among other soccer performance and player development qualifications.


“One question which is a constant with international recruits is ‘Do you have any other internationals on the team?’” Souza said. “So having current internationals and former international players thrive here helps tremendously. I think having an international member of staff is also greatly reassuring for parents and potential student-athletes.”

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Marcos Da Paz is from Recife, Brazil.

Finding brotherhood abroad


Of the 12 international student-athletes on the men’s team, Israel has the most, with three players.


Having fellow citizens on his team helps make Alon Drey feel more comfortable being 6,606 miles from his home in Or’Aqiva, Israel.


“It was lonely for me at first because I was alone,” he said.


“Then Nadav Ohayon joined, and then Shachar Nissim. When you have someone from the same country with the same culture and food, it’s a connection that you can’t explain. They are my brothers.”

Drey expressed hope that universities keep giving international students opportunities to play and learn in the United States and value the benefit to their institutions and athletics programs.


“International players bring a lot of experience from the international leagues that can positively influence players here,” he said.

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Nadav Ohayon, Shachar Nissim and Alon Drey are from different cities in Israel.
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Clara Karlsson is from Örnsköldsvik, Sweden.
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Nellie Nygren is from Gothenburg, Sweden.

Bringing players from many countries can create challenges, but Cormier sees the upside.


“They are coming in with different types of training. So, as a coaching staff, we have to build an FGCU identity,” he said.


“The main benefit is the guys learn a lot, for example, about the Jewish culture, music, food, soccer concepts and this all creates a richness that they normally would not have.”


Home away from home


With two players, Sweden leads international representation on the women’s team. Goalkeeper Clara Karlsson hails from Örnsköldsvik and defender Nellie Nygren from Gothenburg. But the Swedish duo has found a home away from home in Fort Myers.


“Choosing a college without visiting any of them is a very hard decision,” Nygren said.


“The reason I chose FGCU was because of the good feeling I got about the family-like environment. The team and coaches are a huge reason for the feeling of home, but the whole foundation at FGCU is a great program.”


Like many international players before her, Nygren has made a difference for the program.


She arguably made the most crucial kick for FGCU since 2017, forever solidifying the 2022 team’s legacy. Her winning penalty kick in the ASUN Championship sent the Eagles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.

“It was an incredible feeling winning the game, and there are no other people I would want to do that with than my teammates and coaches,” Nygren said.


From the coaches to the athletic trainers, detailed efforts are made to make all players feel welcome at FGCU. The Schreiner Family Sports Medicine Center hangs international flags from the lobby ceiling to commemorate each country represented across all 15 athletic team rosters.


“It makes me feel like a part of the team as a whole,” Nygren said. “Being on the other side of the world from family and friends can be tough. But knowing that you are important here makes this feel like a home, too.”

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