The world’s most popular sport is seeing a changing landscape in the United States — and that’s also bringing a noticeable change to the Penn State men’s soccer roster.
Nine Nittany Lions on the 27-man roster — one-third of the team — grew up outside the U.S. Yes, two of them are from Canada, but there are also hometowns in England, Ireland, Costa Rica and Israel.
“The world game is exploding, the college game is exploding, and the pro game in America is exploding,” coach Bob Warming said at Penn State’s annual fall sports media day Wednesday. “The international players see great value in coming to the U.S. and becoming an educated man in conjunction with trying to achieve the highest level of play.”
Warming, starting his eighth season at Penn State with a 7 p.m. Friday contest against Hofstra at Jeffrey Field, has been mining international fields more as he seeks some punch to his lineup. With many of the top American strikers turning pro instead of going to college, Warming will take help anywhere he can find it. And, he pointed out Wednesday, many more Division I schools are doing the same.
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“(Foreign players) see the model that we have is remarkable, unlike any other place in the world — they go to school and play at a high level,” Warming said.
The injection of international flavor also brings a different feel to the Nittany Lion locker room, and broader soccer knowledge.
“There’s a lot more spice to the team now that we’ve got a lot more international players,” senior goalkeeper Evan Finney said. “I think they also bring a different style of play that we might not be used to which is kind of cool of us to kind of change up a bit.”
Penn State was certainly in need of scoring punch after registering just 22 goals in 18 games last season. Eight of those goals left with the graduation of Connor Maloney.
Warming liked what he saw in preseason scrimmages with some improved scoring punch, outscoring three opponents 7-2. He’s also looking for improvement in set pieces, with minimal scoring last year on free kicks, and better passing. Pinpoint connections on crosses from the flank can also lead to better scoring chances.
“We’re going to get challenged athletically on the field this whole fall,” Warming said. “I’m very excited about the challenge ahead and the guys we’re going to have out meeting that challenge.”
Among those who bring creativity to make those connections, and some of that international flair, is redshirt junior defender and captain Dani Marks, a native of Ra’anana, Israel.
“It adds a lot,” Marks said. “We can learn from guys from all over the world. ... It’s great just to compare how guys play everywhere else in the world. And it spices up the team in terms of soccer and social activities and stuff.”
Warming, a veteran of four decades of coaching soccer with 456 career wins, second among active Division I coaches, doesn’t wallow in the changes to the recruiting landscape. Instead, he has adapted and hopes to have found a winning formula.
“Control what you can control,” he said. “I can’t control what’s happening in the rest of the world. I can only control what happens in my team and with our own recruiting. Our objective is to get the best fit for Penn State.”
Penn State men’s soccer
Head coach: Bob Warming (eighth season)
Last season: 8-8-2, fifth-place Big Ten
Returning starters: 6
Season opens: vs. Hofstra, 7 p.m. Friday at Jeffrey Field