In Part 2 of our series on the German Soccer Experience, we talk to two young Americans, Victor Rolph and Thalya Dwyer, who are in Frankfurt involved in preseason training with German clubs. Both have worked with Justin Rose of JJR Consulting’s German Soccer Experience, learning what is needed to make it as a professional in the land of the world champions, to get expert feedback on where they are in their personal game and to make the type of connections necessary to get chances to trial with German clubs while getting help acclimating to the German language and culture. Both now have reached the start of their goals — signing professional contracts with German clubs.
Victor, 20, and Thalya, 21, are both from Colorado and already knew each other from Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado, where Victor played for a semester and Thalya played for the new woman’s program, where she was both team captain and leader in goals and assists. Victor had already been over to German with the GSE when he was 17, where he trained with a variety of club’s academy teams including those of Eintracht Frankfurt, SV Darmstadt 98, 1.FC Kaiserslautern and Kickers Offenbach, but was unable to sign because he wasn’t yet 18 years old. \
He returned to the United States, rejoined the Colorado Rapids Academy U18 squad and trained with the Rapids’ first team and reserve squads, where he got into a few matches against other MLS reserve sides. After recovering from a foot injury that sidelined him for eight months and regaining his fitness, Victor returned to Germany in the summer of 2016 and played with two clubs before signing with 5th division side RW Frankfurt recently, while Thalya, has signed with the Eintracht Frankfurt Frauen, who play in the 3rd division of Germany’s women’s football.
Fanatic: How did you find out about the German Soccer Experience?
Victor: I was about 16 and had a good year with the Rapids, and my dream was to play in Europe. My brother was with the Storm, and a coach there that I’d played for a bit got us in touch with Justin. I was 17 when I went to Frankfurt, by myself and stayed with Justin. I was there about 2-3 weeks, and had some good opportunities, but couldn’t sign because I wasn’t yet 18.
Fanatic: While you were there, you got to train with some big clubs’ academy and youth squads, and spent some time with Hoffenheim’s strength and conditioning coach…what was that like?
Victor: It was awesome. I got a taste of some things I hadn’t seen before in the U.S. With Hoffenheim’s trainer, I was doing a lot of jumps and balance/coordination things, as well as concentrating on building up my core. The German players are so strong, but they don’t kill themselves with weights — instead it’s a lot of body and coordination work. The players are like machines, physically, and that’s what I was trying to build myself, too. I trained with the players on the roster, and it was almost a surreal experience, being with clubs I’ve seen on TV. I was a little nervous, but it worked out well. I also received feedback from a few different trainers was that while, as a midfielder playing in a central role, that I was getting in good spots but that my finishing needed improvement — I was hitting the spots, but they wanted more clinical finishing. I began adapting to the speed of play, the speed of thought, that the players there are used to.
Fanatic: Did you learn anything about nutrition?
Victor: Eating properly and staying hydrated is a very big thing, especially when you are involved in two-a-day training or three-hour sessions — knowing what meals to eat…and at what times, when to get your carbs, when you need your proteins. I learned a lot just watching the young players in Germany — again, they are like machines in a physical sense, and even away from training I learned by watching how they conducted themselves.
Fanatic: What about the German language?
Victor: During the morning, from 8:00 am until noon, unless I was in training I attended Sprachschule. German isn’t easy for me, but I learned how to hold a normal conversation, the simple day-to-day things, and as I learn more and more I become more interested in the German language. It definitely helps on the football side of things, and the coaches notice that you are becoming more proficient in German.
Fanatic: What happened when you came back to the U.S. after your first trip?
Victor: I don’t think people realized where I’d been, but I was playing with more confidence and at a higher level. Unfortunately, I had an injury that set me back about eight months, but the academy season was over when I was healthy again. But I began training, and then spent a semester at Otero, where we made regionals, and I met Thalya.
Fanatic: What happened when you returned to Germany?
Victor: I came to Munich in the summer of 2016. A few contracts didn’t work out because of visa issues, and I played for a small club there. When the winter transfer window opened, I was signed by SpVgg Selbitz, a club in Bavaria that has been around since 1914. Selbitz is a town of about 5,000, a big change from a major city like Munich, but it was a good start — very nice people who love their local club. And now I’ve signed with RW Frankfurt in the Hessenliga, the 5th division, a good step forward. From the players I’ve met (preseason training started the day after this interview), many can speak English and are willing to help me with my German. Obviously, your play has to speak for you too, but RW have done a great job making me feel comfortable.
Fanatic: What do you miss about the U.S.?
Victor: Well, my family, of course. You know, it’s tough going eight or nine months without seeing them, but with technology, we can FaceTime and they are proud of me. . I miss the food — I miss some good Mexican food, a nice burrito, I love Chipotle. I enjoy German food, but it’s a little heavy, especially when training, but we keep our nutrition good.
Fanatic: How has the German Soccer Experience helped you in reaching your goals?
Victor: Justin has been helping me reach my goals on and off the field for several years now. My first experience in Frankfurt was something I’ll never forget. Justin set up some things for me that a lot of kids never get to experience and that gave me a clear idea of where I wanted to start my professional career. In returning to Germany and working with Justin again, it’s amazing how he’s built his network in the last few years and I feel very fortunate to have him at my side, as I consider him a friend because he cares not only about my performances on the pitch but the man that I become. Any player would be very fortunate to work with and have Justin by their side.
Thalya talked about her German Soccer Experience, too.
Fanatic: You helped Otero Jr. College women’s program get on the map, and got your associates degree there?
Thalya: Yes, I love that school, and I got my associates degree in science, and then continued with biology and I’m interested in pre-veterinary medicine.
Fanatic: How did you get involved with the German Soccer Experience?
Thalya: Well I met Victor when he was at Otero, and through Victor, I met Justin. I was going to Fort Hays State before I met Justin. Seeing what Victor was doing, he was living MY dream, and I couldn’t wait, so I went to Germany a little more than three months ago. I trained with a team, 1.FFC Hoff, near Nürnberg. I didn’t sign a contract, but I got a chance to get a feel for German women’s football.
Fanatic: What was the experience like?
Thalya: The biggest difference was language, but I picked up some of the basic German footballing terms. Then the style is different, too. They knock the ball around a lot, it’s less physical, more technical, from what I’ve experienced in the U.S. As a forward in the #10 role, I’ve had to figure out how to position myself differently to fit the style of play. The coaches and players have been great. Women’s football at Hof is a pretty big deal, as they don’t have a men’s team. Now at Eintracht Frankfurt, there is definite feel for growing the women’s team and getting into the Bundesliga.
Fanatic: What do you expect your everyday life to be like once training begins?
Thalya: In the preseason, practice is almost every day, and during the season training will likely be three times a week and then the match on the weekend. You have to do your own work on your own time if you’re going to be good enough to play and take care of your fitness. At this level, the wages aren’t enough to live on, so the club is working with me to perhaps have an internship involving children’s education, or veterinary work, or I may try to continue to pursue my four-year degree online.
Fanatic: What about getting along on the team? Is there a bias against Americans?
Thalya: At Hof, I think some of the women on the squad had, maybe, a stereotype of an American player as being big and fast, but maybe lacking in other areas. I wasn’t nervous about going to Germany, especially with Victor and Justin there, but I was a bit nervous about how I’d compete. But by practicing with the club, and scoring a goal in my first scrimmage, I felt that I proved my ability and was able to compete with German players. As a team captain in high school and college, I’ve also had a leadership role and that helps, even if it’s in a different language now. Everyone was so friendly at Hof, and many speak English, so it was a great experience.
Fanatic: What did your parents think of your move to Germany?
Thalya: Well, parents can be skeptical, and they questioned me leaving to play with only another year of college to go before I got my degree, but I felt it was time to go now. And of course, they are supportive and proud of me and we keep in touch with FaceTime. I struggle with language, but I will be taking Sprachschule as soon as things settle a bit. You do sacrifice, get our of your comfort zone, to go overseas to play, and you have to be ready for that. But it’s worth it.
Fanatic: How do you feel about the German Soccer Experience?
Thalya: Anyone going through this process understands that there is a lot more than what you see on the surface. There’s the language barrier, unfamiliar places, different culture, where do you stay, how are you going to survive? All of that on top of being 5000 miles and an ocean away from home, family and friends. The obstacles can make your dream of making it as a professional footballer out of reach, but Justin works very hard to give you every opportunity to succeed. Justin set up more training opportunities for me with clubs than most people get. Since then, we’ve found a great club in Eintracht Frankfurt that will help me develop as a player and where I can help the women’s team rise to Germany’s top division like the men’s side. Justin’s passion for the game and for the success of the players he works with makes me very thankful that I have him in my corner.
Notes: First, the Bundesliga Fanatic wishes the best to Victor and Thalya in their pursuit of their dreams, and it was a pleasure to speak with both. There are many paths to success in the footballing world, including a four year college career, and there are advantages to both going to university as well as starting earlier as a professional. If one’s goal is to play in Germany, though, it is important to be aware that clubs are more interested in younger players and getting them into their training as early as possible. The success stories of Christian Pulisic at Borussia Dortmund and Bobby Wood at Hamburger SV, and for both with the USMNT, attests to not only their talent and determination, but to getting to Germany in their teens to begin their careers.
Victor started training about 10 days ago and is doing well at RW Frankfurt, as Justin reports that he is the fittest player there. Thayla began training with Eintracht Frauen on July 10.