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The Netherlands. South Korea. Canada. The Virginia Tech men’s soccer team has players from all around the world making an impact. Almost half of the roster comes from a foreign country, and those players make up a majority of the young core of this Hokies team. Virginia Tech is ranked 7th in the first RPI poll and is 5-2-2 despite falling 1-0 to No. 18 N.C. State in its last game. A lot of this success is due to the play of the international players who have received substantial minutes early in the season.
“They bring a little more experience, some calmness, and some talent,” Head Coach Mike Brizendine said. “All those guys, you bring them in and they bring a little something different, but I think there are a couple of constants; they’re all good players, they’re all good people, so they blend in with what we’re doing.”
The player who has been turning heads the most is goalkeeper . Swaneveld is from the Netherlands originally and plays for CVV De Jodan during his club season. He was given the task of filling the shoes of Ben Lundgaard, the Hokies’ previous goalkeeper who was selected in the first round of the MLS Draft this year. The Dutch sophomore has stepped into the starting role and been fantastic for the Hokies. He has 45 saves in the first nine games of the season, and has only allowed nine goals.
“He’s been excellent in goal. I’ve watched a lot of goalkeepers, and he’s probably one of the better goalkeepers in the country, especially for him being a first-year player,” Brizendine said. “He still has some growth, and I don’t think what you’re seeing is the finished product. I think we’re going to make him better.”
Swaneveld is the only player to play every minute so far this season, which has helped him grow into a leadership role in goal. The team’s success has been largely due to his ability as a goalkeeper. He’s kept a clean sheet twice and has only allowed more than one goal in two games. His play has allowed him to gain confidence and the team to trust him in the back.
“It’s a good feeling for yourself to know that you’re playing well,” Swaneveld said. “You know that your team trusts you behind them and they know if they allow a shot on goal, it’s not going to be a goal, which gives me a lot of trust.”
In front of Swaneveld is defender Jon Ingason, who has played a large role on both ends of the pitch. Despite his position as a defender, he has stepped up recently on the attack. After not scoring any goals in his first 25 games at Virginia Tech, he scored in three straight games against UNC Greensboro, Wake Forest, and Longwood. These three goals are good enough for second on the team. His play has earned him the second most minutes on the team, behind Swaneveld, only missing seven minutes all season.
“He’s a leader of our group, I think he keeps us organized, he’s a communicator, he’s hyper-competitive. Those are all great qualities that we appreciate,” Brizendine said. “He’s been fortunate with some free kicks and a penalty kick to get some goals, but we didn’t bring him here to score goals. We brought him here for everything else he does, and he does a great job of all of that.”
Besides Ingason’s play at Virginia Tech and for Grindavik FC, a club team at the highest level of Icelandic Soccer, he also was a member of Iceland’s Under-19 National Team. This experience playing against high level players around the world has given this Hokies team a sophomore who is already a seasoned player and can lead their team as captain.
“I’ve been involved with the youth national teams throughout my career,” Ingason said. “It’s prepared me for college soccer through playing the other nations, it’s really competitive and you find a lot of athleticism inside those teams. College soccer, especially the ACC, is way more athletic, the players are in better shape and able to run a lot more.”
The style of play in the ACC has been very different for both players since coming over from
Europe, but also the preparation and practice for each match.
“Everything here is much bigger, much more professional, the facilities are better,” Swaneveld said. “It’s much more physical play. We lift more in the weight room, run more on the field, it’s a 90-minute battle.”
Recruiting these international players is a completely different process for the players and the schools. Players have agents that can reach out to teams and coaches because they are professionally playing for club teams as well.
“I had some kind of agent that was helping me out from an agency in Iceland that helped Icelandic soccer players get scholarships in the states,” Ingason said. “I was interested in this opportunity and after a couple months, Virginia Tech reached out and got in contact with him and they were really interested in getting me over here.”
Swaneveld had a slightly different recruiting process to become a Hokie. The star goalkeeper began his recruitment process through the modern phenomenon of social media.
“I had a friend who played here in the U.S. and he got me in contact with his agency,” Swaneveld said. “We made a highlight video and posted it on YouTube and we got some emails from some schools and then we talked to some coaches and applied. It moved pretty fast after the video.”
The international players aren’t only making an impact on the field, but with their contributions to the team off the field. Their unique backgrounds are able to add to the overall culture of the group and enhance the relationships between their teammates. Despite their differences, they are able to come together as a team and have success.
“They just give us a different perspective, all of those players are from different socioeconomic backgrounds,” Brizendine said. “They all have one very important thing in common and that’s called soccer, that’s the beauty of the game, it brings us all together.”