Three of a kind

Jacob Shiffer

“I love the Germans,” Quinnipiac men’s soccer head coach Eric Da Costa said.

He was just beginning a two-minute-long speech on what Quinnipiac’s three German soccer players – sophomore midfielder Dejan Duric, junior midfielder Simon Hillinger and freshman defender Henry Weigand – bring to the team. His praise never wavered.

“When they get here, they just have a different mentality,” Da Costa said. “They’re a bit more mature. They know how to handle the academic load. They can manage their time a bit better. They can communicate a bit easier. The transition in soccer is not that different. There’s just a lot of similarities and parallels with the Germans. We’ve been really lucky.”

For Hillinger, that praise and admiration was felt during his recruiting process.

[media-credit id=2200 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]“I really felt like the coaches wanted me here,” Hillinger said. “Compared to other coaches I talked to I always felt like the second choice but with [assitant coach] Graciano Brito and Eric Da Costa it was like I felt right away like they really want me and they want me in their program.”

Originally from Ditzingen, Germany, Hillinger played on the Red Bulls Leipzig U17 and U19 teams in Germany’s top youth soccer league from 2014-2016. He also played for Hallescher U19 in the second league in Germany.

“I feel like I’ve been in the same situation as every other international student,” Hillinger said. “So I gotta help them too.”

This wealth of international experience led him to be selected to Quinnipiac’s leadership council for a second straight season. As one of two European players on the council, along with senior defender Jeppe Haehre from Norway, he wants to make sure he looks out for other international players on the team.

“I feel there is a responsibility for us,” Haehre said. “Because I feel like we need to make sure we’re collective as a group that everyone is helping each other out.”

Part of that responsibility is understanding the differences between the American and German soccer styles and teaching that to other players. Now in his third season, Hillinger feels like he finally understands the differences and can apply them to his game.

“The physicality is different especially for me,” Hillinger said. “If I look at myself freshman year I was very skinny and I came in trying to solve everything with my technical abilities.”

After starting in all 19 games as a freshman and earning MAAC All-Rookie Team honors, Duric understands the need to adapt to the American game. He’s recognized the difference in styles and knows what he needs to improve upon this season.

“It’s way more physical and the tactics is way more one on one,” Duric said.

Duric grew up in Bielefeld, Germany and played for the DSC Arminia Bielefeld in Germany’s top youth soccer league. Last season, he led the Bobcats in minutes played and has used that experience to improve his mentality for his sophomore year.

He’s learned to focus on more than just the tactical side of the game. On a Bobcats team made up of players from 10 different countries, he began to focus on the different playing styles and how they represent each player’s unique culture.

[media-credit id=2228 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]“Soccer combines all the different cultures and we can learn about other cultures through soccer,” Duric said.

That advice and Hillinger’s leadership has benefitted fellow German Weigand. Raised in Hamburg, Germany, Weigand played for Niendorfer TSV in German soccer’s highest division at the youth level. During his time with the team, they earned two second-place finishes in the Hamburg Regional Cup. Now with Quinnipiac, Weigand believes having Duric and Hillinger as teammates makes all the difference.

“When I need something,” Weigand said. “Simon and Dejan are always there for me.”

The three players look out for each other on and off the field. They’ve helped each other with everything from learning how to balance academics and athletics, how to purchase an American cell phone plan, and how to buy car insurance. They’ve been able to speak to each other in German about the differences between German and American cultures.

“The good fact is that no one understands what we’re saying,” Hillinger said.

Aside from joking about cultural differences, they lean on each other for support when the time difference makes it difficult to speak to friends and family back home. On the bad days, having a friend who understands your upbringing, your culture and your language can boost their morale. It doesn’t hurt that they’re embraced by their teammates and coaches who know they bring more than just their talent to the team.

“We’ve enjoyed having them in the program,” Da Costa said. “They add a lot of value.”

[media-credit id=2200 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]That value wasn’t hard to add to the team. As a smaller school in Division I, Da Costa believes it’s easier to recruit international players to Quinnipiac. Most international players don’t understand the American college soccer system at first, but they see each school as an opportunity to receive an education and further their playing career.

“Recruiting the American kids is actually a lot more difficult for us,” Da Costa said. “They want the glitz, they want the glamour. They know the differences between the institutions in terms of prestige or popularity, so they look their nose down at us.”

The experience international players bring to a team helps them develop at a quick rate. As different as the American system is from other countries’ systems, Da Costa doesn’t believe it fazes them since they are focused the second they step on campus.

“The international players have been able to make an impact for us right away where the American player sometimes takes a year or two to settle in.”

The impact of the three German players has not gone unnoticed. Hillinger has contributed a goal and an assist this season while Weigand is tied for the team lead in minutes played and Duric ranks seventh in the same category. They’re taking their unique opportunity seriously, while remembering to appreciate the game that made it all possible.

“Try to enjoy it,” Duric said. “Try to learn as much as you can while having fun and doing what you love because we all love soccer.”