International talent helping MSOC thrive

Peter Boettger | Staff Photographer | Duquesne’s Maxi Hopfer — pictured in an Oct. 12 game at Rooney Field against St. Bonaventure — is one of 13 different Dukes from eight different countries outside of the United States.

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor

Nov. 3, 2022

The Duquesne men’s soccer team wrapped up a regular season on Saturday that has been the most successful during the 10-year tenure of Head Coach Chase Brooks. The campaign has included a program record 10 wins, multiple appearances in the national rankings, a second-consecutive undefeated record at home and the second seed in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.

The success is fueled by a roster more diverse than nearly every team or organization at Duquesne. Of 34 players, there are 13 players from nine international countries. From El Salvador to Australia, the diverse makeup of Duquesne’s roster contributes to the players’ success, on the field and off.

“Within our philosophy, we want to make sure we have the best local talent,” Brooks said. “But within that, at this level, if you’re going to want to win and compete for championships, you’re going to have to have a good balance and a good blend of the internationals, as well as the domestic players.”

Among the internationals is forward Maxi Hopfer. The 23-year-old sophomore lived in Styria, Austria, before making his way to the Bluff. He spent three seasons playing for SC Elin Weitz in the Austrian third league, before deciding he wanted to leave but continue his soccer career, as well as his academics. That led him to the United States.

“That’s why America is so special,” Hopfer said. “Because you have the school system of universities and college sport.”

The coordination it takes for a school like Duquesne to land the talents of somebody like Hopfer is an adventure in itself. It begins with fostering relationships with clubs and talent agencies around the globe.

“There’re companies that their job is to help potential student-athletes come over,” Brooks said. “It’s about reaching out to our contacts, watching a lot of video and then just trusting our instincts and trusting our connections we’ve made with people around the world.”

Once the agencies have paired player with program, the two sides make contact. The attribute Brooks and his team look for character in their prospects.

If they don’t pass that test, they aren’t given a second thought. But for Hopfer, and those whom Brooks approves, an opportunity comes to light.

“My [agency] thought Duquesne was a good fit, so they talked to the coaches,” Hopfer said. “They brought me here, and they gave me the trust in me. I’m happy that I can give something back because it’s a big step from them to take ‘Maxi from Austria.’”

Processes similar to Hopfer brought other starring players over, as well. Goalkeeper Domenic Nascimben hails from Sydney, Australia, striker Ask Ekeland comes from Norway and starting defenseman Torge Witteborg is from Germany.

While sometimes challenging, the opportunity to play with players from such a wide array of backgrounds is a joy for both player and coach.

“It’s super fun,” Hopfer said with a grin. “We have so many different cultures, so many different languages, so many different jokes, stories, religions. We’re all open-minded, we all have a common goal.”

Meanwhile, Brooks uses the diverse locker room to his advantage.

“Can you bring the best of your culture, and the best of who you are to the table?” he asks of his athletes. “And then learn from the guys around you, learn from other cultures.”

Such a high prevalence of international players makes it even easier for players to feel welcomed. Everyone needing to be stitched together means that nobody can be left on the outside.

“It’s a lot of fun, which you wouldn’t experience from one culture alone,” Hopfer said. “Sometimes it’s a blessing, sometimes it’s not so much [a] blessing when you don’t understand each other, but we figure a way out around it.”

Brooks is given the task of leading the team as they mesh both on the field and in the locker room. It’s a difficult job, one that he jokingly blames for his graying beard hair.

“All the different cultures coming together, it’s a tight locker room,” he said.

Even the size of his locker room catalyzes team bonding.

“It’s a small locker room for 34 18- to 22-year-old males,” Brooks said. “But that’s part of it. It’s that comradery that comes from being in a shared space, sharing experiences.”

Brooks also mentioned the light-hearted banter that arises from the cozy confines of the locker rooms.

“It’s a great experience to have so many different people,” Hopfer said.

It’s no small feat to manage this recruiting tactic from an administrative standpoint. Brooks stressed the importance of cultivating relationships with organizations around the world. Fostering successful playing experiences for imported players has the potential to draw eyes from other internationals in search of a home.

For instance, Jesper Moksnes transferred to Duquesne from the University of Virginia prior to this season. Coming from Stavanger, Norway, the defender enjoyed a successful transition to Duquesne in the spring.

In 2022, the Dukes welcomed Ask Ekeland, a Stavanger native who played for the same club in Norway as Moksnes. Ekeland leads the team in scoring with eight goals and has started every game for the Dukes, despite being a true freshman.

“The fact that we can keep getting players from certain areas is a testament to the type of program we run,” Brooks said.

Sophomore and starting defenseman Christoffer Vie Angell is also from Norway.

Brooks also mentioned that the secular mindset required to adapt to his locker room is something that can be applied in the real world.

“It’s just about getting to know people,” Brooks said, “which you should be doing anyway. That should just be humanity. How can I get to know who you are and meet you where you’re at?”

That outlook feeds into Brooks’ philosophy, as a person and as a leader.

“If you’ve got guys you trust, guys who are here for a higher purpose, guys that are here because they want to help win championships, then it doesn’t really matter where they are from,” Brooks said.

This fall, the players have gotten to meet each other on the field under Brooks’ leadership, no matter the background, no matter the language.

“We also share a common language in the sport that we love,” Brooks said.

The Dukes will begin postseason play on Saturday, when they host La Salle in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament. Duquesne’s only conference loss of 2022 came at the hands of the Explorers.

“Our focus is looking forward to the next game,” Hopfer said. “On our home field where we’re obviously really good. We also hope for the support of the whole university and everybody who knows us.”