MICHAEL ADUBATO - Tuesday, October 27, 2020
You asked the questions and now Athlone Town midfielder Taner Dogan has answered them. Without further ado, Taner takes on the Best XI.
I - When you were growing up in your younger youth years, what was the one thing that was driving you to be such a great soccer player?
-Will Marshall, St James MISSOURI
It really comes down to the love of the game, and my desire to improve and realize my maximum potential stems from that passion. I was always in the backyard in the driveway with a ball at my feet, and in hindsight, I believe that is where I developed so much of my technical ability. I feel that passion more than ever today, as I wake up grateful to be able to do what I love for a living and work towards achieving the next goals in my career.
II - What is culturally the biggest difference between Irish and U.S soccer? Being the only foreigner in the squad, how do you cope with the Irish locker room culture?
-Tor Overland, Bodo, NORWAY
It is hard to compare the general soccer cultures of the USA and Ireland. In my opinion, the United States does not have one defined style of play as you will find in most countries. I do not necessarily see this as a negative but see it as a byproduct of the wide variety of different people that are involved in the game in the USA. Being the "melting pot" that it is, the United States is no different in terms of its footballing identity due to the cosmopolitan array of players and coaches bringing their own unique influences. Traditionally, many Europeans perceived the stereotypical American player to work hard and possess a high level of physical fitness but lack technical ability and game intelligence. After playing in both the United States and Europe, I can attest that this perception is growing far from the truth. Although largely criticized, the youth development structures in the United States have benefited from the prevalence of a greater amount of high-level coaches, which in part has led to young American players becoming more technically advanced and tactically aware. This is exemplified by the growing contingent of young Americans having significant impacts on top European leagues over the past couple of years. The domestic game has recently also taken enormous strides forward, with MLS and USL providing the country with multiple divisions of full-time football. It excites me that MLS is now being regarded as an enticing place for talented young players to make a career, whereas it previously carried a "retirement league" stigma for top European players that are past their prime.
The top teams in the League of Ireland Premier Division, namely Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, are strong clubs that both play attractive brands of football. As you go down the table and into the first division, common trends of direct and physical play are often seen. As within most European countries, clubs here have long and storied histories. Clubs are engrained in the fabric of the local communities and is what makes playing in Europe so special. This genuine connection between the community and the club isn't yet as strong in the United States, which although rapidly changing is understandable given that the clubs have been formed much more recently.
In Dundalk, there a few other foreigners in the squad between myself and Josh Gatt (USA), Stefan Colovic (Serbia), and a few English guys as well. At Athlone, I am the only foreigner. All the Irish players I have met- and Irish people for that matter- have been very welcoming. There is no language barrier here either which has made settling in easier as well.
III - In the past, a lot of American players headed to Norway. Now it seems to be Germany. Do you think that Ireland can become a hotbed for American players in the future?
-Brian Collins, Boston, MASSACHUSETTS
I am aware that many Americans playing abroad have found themselves in Scandinavia, and it is now great to see more Americans playing in Germany. In particular, there are many young Americans that have began their professional careers in Germany, many of whom started in clubs' youth academies before breaking into the first team. There is such great depth in the German football pyramid, with there even being many strong professional teams in the regionalized fourth tier.
I would love to see more American players make the transition to European football via the League of Ireland, but as it currently stands there a few factors that make it difficult to say that it could become the next hotbed for American players. There are only two divisions of ten teams in the LOI, and slightly over half of them are part-time. From a financial and developmental perspective, this reduces the realistic opportunities for foreign players looking to play here. Speaking from experience, work permit regulations are not overly accommodating either. However, I would highly recommend Americans that have the opportunity to sign for a good club here to take the chance. Playing in Europe with the potential to also compete in the Champions/Europa league provides an excellent opportunity to further your career, let alone the experience that comes with it.
IV - I saw that goal that you scored from half field recently on YA. Great goal! What were you thinking?
-Hunter Rousseau, Duluth, MINNESOTA
Thanks! The opportunity arose from a transition moment in which our team won the ball back in midfield. Goalkeepers are often positioned higher in these moments, so I recognized the situation and executed the finish. It was a great feeling when I saw the ball hit the net. It was a memorable night as a strong team and individual performance saw us beat the league leaders at the time, Drogheda United.
V - You and Josh Gatt are on Dundalk's books; since you are both Americans playing in a foreign country, has a special friendship developed between you two?
-Jose Lopez Gomez, Queens, NEW YORK
Growing up, Josh was an emerging star within US Soccer. I admired him for being one of the first Americans to head to Europe at a young age and find success. I even remember typing in his name into YouTube to watch his highlights when I was in high school! It has been great to now play with him and we have developed a good friendship off the pitch. He has, unfortunately, had to deal with a couple of injury setbacks during the prime years of his career but is a great guy and has come out the other side of that adversity well.
VI - Is MLS on your radar?
-Ken Sins, Bainbridge Island, WASHINGTON
I am currently looking to further my career in Europe but would always have a top league like MLS on my radar.
VII - How would you compare the college level of play to competition in Ireland?
-Joe Ciola, Irvine CALIFORNIA
This is also a tough question as there are significant ranges in quality of teams in both the League of Ireland and the NCAA. As previously mentioned, teams like Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers have the quality to compete in European competition, and currently seem to be a cut above most other teams in Ireland. In the NCAA, the top Division 1 teams will have ultra-professional infrastructures with players that could very well be already competing at the professional level. Once you head further down the ranks of collegiate soccer, it will become more of a rarity to see players and programs with professional level quality.
In terms of preparing a younger play for their future careers in the game, there are advantages and disadvantages to both pathways. It is important to understand that a few clubs in the Premier Divison, along with the majority of clubs in the First Divison, are part-time. This means that they train in the evenings and often lack comprehensive training facilities and resources. Top NCAA programs will have state of the art facilities and numerous resources available to student-athletes such as nutritional advice, sports science, physiotherapy, and equipment. These programs will also train in a nearly full-time environment, while obviously providing a university education as well. The major drawback is the schedule, with the competitive schedule being limited to only a few months of the year.
Playing professional football in Ireland comes with the benefit of being able to play a year-round season in a senior environment. Playing with and against men, with the pressures of results, promotion/relegation, and bonuses generate development through experience alone. There is also a greater sense of mobility here, where a player having a good season can quickly acquire interest from bigger clubs or achieve promotion with their club.
If I were to roughly compare League of Ireland clubs to their counterparts in the United States, I would say the very best LOI Premier division clubs would be around MLS quality, with the majority being comparable to USL Championship clubs. The First Division would be more similar to USL League 1 or top NCAA Division 1 programs.
VIII - Do you have a fallback plan if you don't make a long term career in soccer? A Harvard degree can't hurt!
-Jeff Hoffman, Norman, OKLAHOMA
My ambition is to play professionally as long as I can and realize my top potential within the game. I really enjoyed my time at Harvard, and I am fortunate that at 22 years old I can attack my professional football career with an economics degree from Harvard in my back pocket. The majority of professional footballers in Europe do not have a university degree and have little idea of what they will do after their playing career. This may lead to many players feeling stress when they contemplate how they will transition into the next chapter of their lives, especially knowing they do not hold any qualifications or experiences outside of football. I feel grateful in the sense that I can relax and focus on my playing career with the peace of mind of having a Harvard degree behind me. When the inevitable day comes that I do stop playing (which will hopefully be many, many years away), I know I want to stay in football. Ideally, this will be in a technical role, as I relish the competitive cycle of matches and the preparation. I know the qualifications and experiences I take from my time at Harvard will only help me in that regard.
IX - Do you think women's football has a future or is it just a trend?
-Marie Carlier, Lille, FRANCE
The women's game will definitely continue to grow. Is it great to see the strengthening of professional domestic leagues, namely the NWSL and the FA Women's Super League. The growth and stability of these leagues are important in giving the top female players exposure outside of major international competitions. They also allow for a wider pool of professional players to be full-time, as previously only the players representing the world's top national teams were able to make proper careers from it. With youth participation continuously increasing, the women's game will only continue to increase in quality and popularity.
X - What have you learned from your time at Dundalk so far?
-Jason Smith, Lima, OHIO
At Dundalk, the majority of the squad are senior players that have extensive experience in the League of Ireland and higher leagues as well. Consistency is such an important part of football, and you can learn a lot by observing how many of the senior players conduct themselves on a daily basis.
I have been on loan at Athlone Town in the First Division for the last few months and have learned so much in my time here. I have played every game since I arrived, and it really shows you how important playing week in week out is. Through regular game time, you begin to find solutions on your own for situations that frequently arise in matches. The experience and confidence that you take away from simply playing is invaluable.
XI - How can college soccer in the states create a better pathway for young players?
-Samindra Kunti, Leuven, BELGIUM
I briefly touched on this subject in one of the previous questions, but the main issue needing to be addressed is the schedule. Having a competitive season that is limited to only a few months of the year is simply not conducive to player development. Players and teams need to be in the proper cycle of training and matches for the majority of the year.
Many people think that college soccer should be phased out completely in order for the United States to develop more "elite" players. Although there are obvious benefits of players gaining professional experience at a younger age and much reform is needed within college soccer, I believe that it has a place in the American soccer ecosystem. During my time spent in Europe thus far, I have encountered many people- most of which involved in professional clubs- that admire the United States' collegiate system, largely due to the fact that players are able to simultaneously progress their football careers while earning a valuable degree. With college programs largely having top facilities and resources, the infrastructure is there for them to hold a significant role in developing players if the right coaching and recruitment is present.