SCHEIDT LOOKS TO SHINE IN POLAND
Athanasios Scheidt has ambitions just like any other American soccer player to make it big in the sport, and he hopes playing in Poland will provide the launchpad for bigger and better opportunities.
The reputation of American soccer has grown both at home and overseas with the country finally producing players that have made it onto the big stages, playing with top teams in Spain, Italy, Germany, and England for example. In recent weeks we have witnessed the likes of Juventus' Weston McKennie and Borussia Dortmund's Gio Reyna scoring goals in UEFA's prestigious Champions League. There are more Americans taking part in this competition than ever before. The pool of American players in the big leagues just keeps growing and giving us hopes of getting back into the World Cup and even going deeper into the competition.
While there are these well-established players capturing the attention of American fans of "the beautiful game," little is known about the youngsters who headed overseas with little or no fanfare in the hopes of establishing a professional career of their own in the world's most popular and toughest sport to break into. Recently Yanks Abroad caught up with one such player who was discovered plying his trade in the soccer-loving nation of Poland.
Athanasios Scheidt, a young American from Wall Township on the Jersey Shore, now playing for Radomiak Radom in the Fortuna I Liga, has been cultivating a career for a few years now and feels that he has found himself in a very good place to continue his journey.
"I went to CBA (Christian Brothers Academy, a private high school in Lincroft, NJ, but because of the (Players Development) Academy, I couldn't really play for them," the 22-year-old said.
"I was only able to play my freshman and sophomore years because we had so many players who also played academy that they made a rule that you couldn't play both (high school and academy). So I obviously chose the academy. "
Scheidt felt that he made the right decision regarding a career in soccer based on the fact that high school soccer is a very short season but the academy trains and plays throughout the year. Also, the quality of high school soccer is not what it once was because talented players are spotted young and are shown a better path where they can cultivate their playing careers.
The young man obviously impressed at the academy because after graduating from high school he was given a four-year scholarship to play at Rutgers University. A full ride in academia and putting his dream of becoming a professional player on hold however was something that he eventually decided against.
"I went there September, October and November; played a soccer season and right after that I left and went to Germany in January.
After going to Rutgers, I really knew then that I wanted to get out of the United States system and try to go play abroad, so I jumped at the opportunity to go to Germany."
The midfielder's father is also his agent and was able to find him a team in the north of the country.
"It went well. I first trained with Hamburger SV and they really liked me. They were going to sign me on an amateur contract but unfortunately a week later after I left, the coach who saw me got fired. I called them back and asked if was still OK to come back but they told me that the coach that wanted me was gone and they've never seen you so that was scrapped."
All was not lost however because he was soon heading back to Germany, to Oldenburg, to try out for JFV Nordwest.
"I got the opportunity to go and train with the U19 squad. They played in First Division Bundesliga, so it was a great opportunity. They liked me and I ended up signing there.
I played for six months but it was tough to break into the squad. I just didn't get minutes. It was my first time abroad and it was really, really tough for me mentally being all alone for the first time. The language was a problem too, so I definitely wasn't playing at the top of my game either. It was really tough out there."
Not to be discouraged but to take on board what he had learned, Scheidt went looking for his next opportunity; his next challenge.
"Right after Germany, I went to Argentina," the Jersey boy continued. "I got out there and realized that this was one of the best decisions that I ever made. I really loved it in Argentina.
I went to Atlético San Martín. They were in the first division then so played against Boca (Juniors) and River (Plate), and all these teams. But the first year I was there I was training with the reserves. (I was told that) I couldn't play for them due to paperwork, which is always a big thing (for foreigners); it was really tough. They told me that I had to wait a year so I was playing in the "local" league over there with them.
The following year they got relegated to the second division and promoted me to the first team. I had a pre-season with them. I was training and playing with the first team in the scrimmages and everything was going well. They basically told me that they liked me and wanted to sign me but unfortunately club politics and probably other reasons, that whole thing got scrubbed. I was devastated because I really loved it there. (I feel that)I got screwed over down there."
After that big blow, it was back to Jersey to clear his head, continue to train and hopefully find the next chance at chasing the dream.
"We, my dad and I, really didn't know that football was super political. We were devastated because I really fell in love with Argentina. I could see myself spending a long time there. Even now, I would want to go back someday.
"I was home for four months, just training, training, and training while trying to stay focused and to figure out what my next move would be. It got tough after four months because you get used to that life again with family and friends and it was tough to leave again. But I have a big support system behind me with my family, my trainer, and my friends who believe in me so much and they push me because they know that I can do it. Sometimes it takes me being pushed by them. I definitely needed them. They helped me train every day like there was no tomorrow."
If life teaches us one thing, it's that hard work and perseverance will continue to open doors for you. Or as the old saying goes, "fortune favors the brave!"
The next stop for this young adventurer was back across the Atlantic Ocean; this time to Portugal.
"Portugal was really nice. I went on a 2 week trial with Leixões. They were really interested and signed me right there on the spot before I even went back home for vacation. I then came back in January for the pre-season and played well. Obviously, it's always tough breaking into the starting line-up but I eventually got my first start."
Then disaster struck. Disaster's name was COVID-19 and everything shut down, sending all the players back home, including Scheidt. The routine on the Jersey side continued as before with training and trying to stay motivated away from the team. But things improved and after several months it was time to head back to Portugal.
"I went back in mid-July but things weren't the same," he continued. "After COVID hit, the situations there were really bad financially for many clubs. The team asked players for money to play. I was in shock. I couldn't believe that they were really asking players for money to play. It was crazy; new kids were coming in and paying the clubs."
It was time for another big decision for the young man and he had to do what was best for him.
"I sat there and realized that there is no way that I'm doing this after everything that I've been through. I thought about Argentina, where these kids don't have anything. They pay by putting in so much time, hard work and sacrifice. I felt that I would be cheating the game if I paid to play somewhere."
Scheidt had the option where he could terminate his contract by mutual consent. He chose this option. By the time all of this had transpired, it was already September, and was getting very late to find another team.
"Fortunately I had a contact here in Poland. They offered me a trial and so I jumped at the first chance to go. I came here, I trained for about 2 weeks and they obviously saw a lot of potential in me because I signed after two weeks. I've been here ever since, about two months."
This new team's full name is RKS Radomiak 1910 and the play in the Polish second division in the city of Radom, located in east-central Poland, approximately 60 miles from the capital city, Warsaw.
Again having joined a team without going through a pre-season or really having time to get to know his teammates before the season began, the usual routine was followed: keep your head down and work your tail off. And yet again perseverance paid off when the coach named him to the starting line-up recently. As a matter of fact, he has two starts and also some minutes off the bench.
"Anything for me at this point is a plus having been here only a short time. The coach has confidence in me to go out there and help the team, which is just huge for me.
It's just amazing to be at a club here that's such a good organization; a very good club. We're fourth in the league right now and we have a huge chance to make it into the first league. I'm just happy to be getting minutes and playing with confidence. It's been amazing ever since I've been here."
Signed as a midfielder, the New Jersey native mainly sees himself playing as a number 8; more of a box-to-box player, although he can play anywhere across the midfield.
With a few teams, a few countries, and a few cultures already experienced at such a young age, the important thing was to grow up quickly and take stock of what you have learned.
"What I've learned? I could talk about the things I've learned for days!
What I really didn't know was everything that it takes to be a professional. If there is one thing that I've learned is that nothing goes unnoticed. If you're training, if you're dedicated, if you're making sacrifices, people notice; coaches notice. Your professionalism reflects what you do on the field.
Also mentally; I've learned that it was so important. Before I left, I wouldn't think twice about mentality- anything mental. But now I've completely changed. The mental part of the game is just so big. It makes a huge difference in how mentally tough you are and how mentally dedicated you are. It really makes a big difference on the field. I think that's one of the most important things that I've learned being abroad. Also that you really grow up quickly."
Being a professional athlete, you have to make an honest assessment of yourself and Scheidt didn't shy away from that question.
"If there's one thing that I think I need to improve on, believe it or not, is my mentality. I think I still have a lot to work on such as being more confident on the ball and trusting in my skills and ability to help make a difference on the field. I know I can do it. I know my potential is high. I just need to unlock that part of my game. I think I can do that by getting more minutes in games and believing in myself. The most important thing is just trying to unlock another part of myself on the field; trying to be more confident."
As for the future, short-term goals are obviously playing more and improving. The ultimate goal is to make it all the way to the national team.
"I think that I can definitely make the national team. That will only come with getting more minutes in games and playing and showing my talents, as well as getting to the biggest club possible and getting on the biggest stages. Playing for the national team and representing my country would be the most incredible thing I could think of."
The future looks bright for this young man who chose to bypass his college scholarship in order to pursue his dream. Scheidt knows what it takes to succeed, so with a lot of hard work and a bit of luck a national team call-up could be on the cards before long.