European trip pays off for Bennett

Soccer coach looked overseas to fill holes in lineup

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European trip pays off for Bennett

Bennett attended showcases across Europe over three and a half weeks  (Wire Stock Photo)

Bennett attended showcases across Europe over three and a half weeks (Wire Stock Photo)

Bennett attended showcases across Europe over three and a half weeks (Wire Stock Photo)

Bennett attended showcases across Europe over three and a half weeks (Wire Stock Photo)

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Immediately after the Marquette soccer season came to an end, Louis Bennett flew to Europe in search of pieces to add to a team that had far more weaknesses than he initially thought. He spent three and a half weeks overseas in two stints, interrupted by the U.S. Academy Showcase in Florida.

“People say, ‘What do you do in the offseason?’” Bennett said. “There is no offseason.”

The trip paid off. Three of Marquette’s 10 recruits are European: Jan Maertins (Switzerland), Anton von Hofacker (Norway) and Zacharias Andreou (Cyprus).

Narrowing down an entire continent of prospects sounds daunting, but it’s made easier by building European contacts and attending showcases – events set up for players to get on the radar of American coaches, akin to a combine.

“We’re not having to convince anyone that they want to come to America,” Bennett said. “We just have to vie for them coming here with different schools.”

Bennett got in contact with von Hofacker at a 120-player showcase in Stockholm, the only showcase the 6-foot-7 defender attended. He received multiple offers, including one from BIG EAST rival St. John’s, but felt Marquette was the best fit for him not only scholastically, but based on the style Bennett likes to play.

“I heard different things about college soccer, but he seemed like he wanted to keep the ball … and that’s how I’m used to playing,” von Hofacker said.

When Bennett finds a player that he likes, he has to sell them quickly on the program because few are familiar with Marquette. European players don’t take official visits, so selling the program is key.

“You’ve got to give a highlight,” Bennett said “They basically are committing on sight unseen.”

He tells the players about the cold they’ll face in Milwaukee, but only after he knows they’re interested in coming.

“I tell them ‘If you can play in this weather it will improve your soccer education,'” Bennett said. “If you play in the MLS, you’re going to have to play in Canada. At the beginning of the MLS season, they’re playing in extreme cold. If you go back to your own country, in Scandinavia or Germany, they play at the beginning of the year when there’s snow on the ground.”

Von Hofacker was impressed with how Bennett conducted himself through the whole process.

“He seemed like a humble guy, as opposed to the other coaches that were bragging a lot,” he said. “I liked him immediately.”

Dealing with these showcases comes with some disadvantages for coaches. They only get to see the players for short amounts of time while they are still in their element. Coaches see players far later in their prep careers than American high school players and get a limited look far later in the recruiting season.

Bennett accepts these pitfalls because he was put in a position where he felt he needed to address issues that arose last season. Despite the high number of foreign recruits, getting an international flair was not a priority for Bennett at the start of the recruiting process. Bennett said if he could put together a team with all the pieces that he needs from a 100-mile radius of the school, he would.

The team turns to Europe when they can’t find what they want in the U.S., especially at this late point in the season when most American blue-chip prospects have already committed.  Bennett said he believes the European players are also more prepared to jump into a lineup right away than most high school players.

“As soon as the season was over we recognized we were so fragile with injuries,” Bennett said. “We had three injuries, and two that devastated (us). We didn’t have the quality or the experience to win … I realized at the end of the year it was partially poor form and partially we didn’t have the strength in depth.”

Many foreign players are older, like Andreou, who spent the last year in the Cypriot army. They often are more mature on the field as well, as they are used to playing against different styles in Europe.

Most importantly for Bennett, the players bring a different and more worldly point of view.

“I love that,” Bennett said. “Now we’ve all got the same goal but we’re covering all angles.”

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