DII title game pits Michigan vs. World
Lynn takes foreign roster into championship against SVSU
EVANS, Ga. -- To say Saturday’s NCAA Division II men’s soccer national championship game features two teams who hail from opposite regions of the country is an understatement.
It’s more like a game featuring two teams from opposite ends of the Earth.
One, Lynn, arrives for the 1 p.m. final boasting a distinctive international flavor. Twenty of the 25 players on its roster hail from other countries – including the top four scorers.
The 18-3-1 Fighting Knights are facing 18-2-4 Saginaw Valley State, which proudly promotes its home state of Michigan. Twenty-one of the 24 players on its roster are from the state. Of the other three, one is from Illinois, one from Jamaica and one from England.
“We’re representing not only Michigan, but I guess the United States a little bit,” said Saginaw Valley’s Zach Meyers, who scored one of the Cardinals’ goals in a 3-1 semifinal victory against Simon Fraser on Thursday. “It’s a little of a challenge, but we love it.”
Coach John Rootes of Lynn, a school whose home is in sunny Boca Raton, Fla., makes no apologies for building a roster that includes top scorers Julian Halder from Bregenz, Austria; Jack Winter from Gloucester, England; Heiko Eberhardt from Reichenbach, Germany; and Martin Wehlert from Halle, Germany. Seven of Lynn’s international players are from England, seven from Germany, two each from Austria and Iceland, and one each from Mexico and South Africa.
Rootes said he believes deeply in going anywhere he can to find not only solid soccer recruits, but quality young men to help build his program.
“I really look for three things – great soccer players, great human beings and great students,” said Rootes, whose team lost to Fort Lewis in last year’s Division II championship game. “Most of the players on our team are all players who have been recommended by former players. We really have good insight to their character.
“We have a mixed bag, for sure, and I think it’s a great experience for the student-athletes. Lynn University has a very high percentage of international students in the student population. It’s one of our missions to recruit international students. It’s a great experience for the kids, and you can see on the field they all love each other. It’s reflected in their play. They trust and know and believe in each other.”
Saginaw Valley, located in University Center, Mich., where the sun doesn’t always shine during often long, cold and snowy winters, goes with more of a home-grown philosophy. Coach Cale Wasserman acknowledged not only the challenge of facing top-notch international players from Lynn, but also the experience and maturity that the Fighting Knights bring to the pitch with 15 of their 25 players being older graduate students. But he also unabashedly pledged that his Cardinals are not and will not be intimidated.
“The team we’ll be playing is a bit older and a bit more experienced,” Wasserman said. “They’re a good possession team but also extremely good on the counterattack. They’ve got two quality forwards (in Halder and Winter).
“So it’ll be a different game, but we’ve seen a lot of different styles this year. I think our team is really mature, too. We finally have a lot of upperclassmen, which is different than the last couple of years. So I think we’ll be able to adapt and grind it out.”
Whatever happens, scoring first likely will be a key, according to Wasserman.
“Every team in this tournament is extremely good. So you can’t sit back,” Wasserman said. “We came out and we were aggressive (in Thursday’s semifinal). We’ve got the players to push teams a little bit and be aggressive. I think we just came out with that mentality and I think it showed. We need to do that again in Saturday’s final.”
Midfielder Bobby Short, who had two nifty assists in Thursday’s semifinal, summed up Saturday’s intriguing matchup the best.
“It doesn’t matter to us where they’re from or how old they are,” Short said. “It doesn’t matter what your last name is. If they can play soccer, they can play soccer. We’ll find out.”