MATHEW WAGNER - Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Heading to DePaul University in 2006, Patrick Hopkins didn't have a scholarship, but that didn't stop him from walking onto his college team and earning playing time.
Five and a half years later and a stint in the Brisbane Premier League in Australia under his belt, the former Blue Demon continues his rise through the soccer ranks, making a switch in January to Ljungskile SK of the Swedish Superettan.
"It's been very satisfying so far," Hopkins said. "I'm hoping that it continues to go even further. It takes a lot of work. You have to put in the extra hours and be willing to sacrifice other things that maybe if you were enjoying a normal life that you could- maybe go out with friends or spend time with your friends on a weekend."
Hopkins, 25, started his college career trying to find out his quality as a player, but after his sophomore season, he began to consider playing professionally. During his sophomore campaign, the center back scored three goals and started in all 20 of the team's matches.
"I kind of decided that I wanted to see how good of a soccer player I could become," Hopkins said. "I decided I'm going to focus on my academics and stuff and make sure my grades are good, but I wanted to spend the extra hours, putting in time, working on my technique and all that stuff.
"It kind of forced me to realize that if I wanted to make the next step, as a professional, I needed to be doing a lot of work on my own and not just relying on the regular training sessions that you get in college."
The work outside of practice paid off, as the Barrington, Ill., native made a move to Australia that paid dividends for the club and the player.
Last season, the Brisbane Wolves won the Brisbane Premier League with Hopkins a contributor to the success. He tallied 17 goals in 14 appearances, including one in the playoff quarterfinals, as he finished tied-fourth in the league in total goals.
"It was definitely a very good year for me," he said. "I had a lot of opportunities off of set pieces and corners, and I was encouraged to get forward as much as I possibly could. Any set piece, any corner like that they were looking to find my head. That certainly gives me more opportunities to find the back of the net."
Following his year at Brisbane, Hopkins was given the opportunity to trial with Ljungskile SK.
The trial came about through a connection between the sporting director of the team, Lennart Göransson, and Brett Hull, director of a program called Bridges FC, after the team decided it needed a center back. Hopkins is a current member of Bridges FC.
Hopkins also got some help from previous Americans' experiences for the club. An American has been on the Ljungskile roster since 2008. Americans such as Michael Thomas (now of Sporting KC), Ryan Miller (now of Swedish Allsvenskan club Halmstads BK), Nick Noble (now of the Los Angeles Galaxy) and Colin Burns (now of Norwegian second tier side Sandefjord Fotball) enjoyed success there.
"Everything kind of fell into place for me," Hopkins said. "I think that that's something that works in my favor that (the club was) very happy with how the Americans had played for them in the past. I think it's a club that goes out of your way to make you welcome, to try to give you every opportunity to be successful."
Hopkins impressed the coaching staff enough to earn a contract with the team and will look to continue his success- defensively and offensively- at Ljungskile.
"I think (coach Tor-Arne Fredheim) was excited that he was able to find a center back so quickly because they needed one," he said. "I think that he's really looking forward to using me to help build out of the back, and I think that he was excited to be able to use me on set pieces as a dangerous piece coming forward as well.
"I think he's a little more concerned with me keeping the ball out of the back of the net than with scoring goals, but I think he'll like me to be dangerous as well."
Meanwhile, the central defender has to adjust to the skill level from Australia to Sweden.
He said that he has noticed a difference very early on, but he has faced some tough competition before.
"I think coming over here was a level up from what I used to play in Australia, but I've been able to play against a lot of guys in the MLS from the offseason," Hopkins said. "So, it really wasn't that much of a stretch for me to get right into the pace of the game over here."
Despite the transition being easier than expected, Hopkins is looking to learn everything from his teammates and his coaches.
"That's all you can do- be open and absorb everything from the experience," he said. "It's going to be different to the American style of play and to the Australian style of play, but I just have to take in and learn from the coaches as much as you can, as well as from the other guys on the team- just by watching what they do and how they're successful."
Ljungskile's first match of the season is against Östers IF on April 8.