Men’s soccer coach looks for fresh talent, finds it all over the world


PNW Athletics

Senior defender Harrison Hooper, from Noosa in Queensland, Australia, is one of the Pride Men’s soccer team’s 12 international players. PNW athletic teams are attracting more international talent as students from around the globe decide that Northwest Indiana offers a good college experience.

PNW men’s soccer is truly international. 

Twelve players from the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Germany, Bermuda, Mexico, Canada and Australia have all joined the Pride squad. 

Eighth-year head coach Ryan Hayes has gone out of his way to recruit international talent, especially in his home country of Australia, where he found three players, senior defenseman and captain Harrison Hooper, senior goalkeeper Eligh Williams and senior midfielder Ryan Moran. 

“Harry has been a big part of our program for the last four years,” said Hayes. “He was second-team all-conference last year. He is a great lockdown defender. Ryan was first-team all-conference and one of the highest points getters on our team last year. And then Eligh will definitely be competing for the starting goalkeeping spot as well.” 

Recruiting international players is quite different from trying to win over someone from a nearby high school or community college. Hayes and his staff do not typically make recruiting trips from country to country – but Hayes leverages his international contacts to identify talent. 

“I have some connections in Australia, given that’s where I’m from. But a lot of the time, it is different agencies that the players have gone through in order to be recruited in the U.S.,” he said. “We work with different agencies to get some of these guys to join our program. They are agencies that find their players within their home countries. They put on different showcase events for coaches in the U.S. to see these guys play live.”

Although the number of international players on Hayes’ squad has steadily grown from five to 12 since he began coaching in 2015, his recruiting philosophy has not changed. Today, international players represent more than a third of the men’s soccer team’s 35 players. 

“We have always tried to recruit the best players we can find,” he said. “We don’t care where the kids are from, we just want to make sure that they are good soccer players, good students and good people.”

He said PNW’s reputation helps. 

“They get attracted to PNW for the quality of the academics that we provide,” he said. “It has really been a strong aspect to help attract these guys. Then we are playing NCAA Division II soccer. Also, the proximity of the where the university is, not too far from Chicago.”

Freshman Czech Republic-born Simon Drda said he came to PNW because of Hayes’ personality and the campus’ location. 

“I had some requirements when deciding what school I would like to attend,” he said. “For example, as an international student, I wanted to go to school near a bigger city to fully experience American life and culture. 

“PNW is just 30 minutes away from downtown Chicago and, in my opinion, it is one of the best downtowns I have ever visited, there is so much to do,” he said. “However, head coach Hayes’s professional approach and behavior was the most important reason that made me commit to PNW. He was the one that convinced me that PNW is the right university for me.”

International recruiting is also popular with three other athletic programs.

Seven of 10 players on the men’s tennis team players come from other countries, as do four of the seven players on the women’s team. Last year, eight of the 23 men’s hockey team players were foreign born. 

A challenge for these players is the culture shock of coming to the United States. 

Drda, who comes from Liberec, a town with a population of 104,000, said the staff and other players are helping to look out for him.

“I’m still adapting to the U.S. school system,” he said. “It’s a little bit different from the Czech Republic. But it is just a matter of weeks before I fully adapt because everybody is trying to help me as much as possible, and I’m very grateful for that.” 

Hayes understands his international players need a little extra care.  

“With these international kids coming over, there’s always going to be a culture shock,” he said. “That’s normal and natural. Our guys are very open to learning about different cultures and countries. That is a real testament to them.”

Drda further appreciates the members of the team for welcoming him with open arms. 

“From the beginning, I was in contact with a coach who helped me with many things,” he said. “He even put me in touch with a teammate who immediately welcomed me and helped me to check in when I arrived during the night. When I met the rest of my team I was amazed. Everyone was welcoming and tried to help me, and other international guys adapt. Our team is a group of special guys, and I know we can achieve great things.”

Soccer is known by many as the world’s game – and that assumption of that is proven here with the outlook of the team. 

After finishing 9-9-1 last year, Hayes is now looking for his seven senior leaders to help develop the squad’s 11 freshmen. 

“We have a wide variety of ages on the team,” he said. “We have a lot of guys returning, a lot of upperclassmen, but also a lot of younger guys. There’s always the goal of the upperclassmen to help assimilate the younger guys as quickly as possible and get them to understand how our program works.”

The team is building on a solid foundation.

Canadian junior forward Christian Booth made second-team all-conference and the Barcelona-born Lucas Bravo Ollé won the GLIAC Freshman of the Year award. 

“Our sport is a global game,” said Hayes. “It is the most played and the most televised in the world, it’s the great thing about our sport.”