Soccer has always been a big part of Noel Caliskan’s life. The LMU senior from Cologne, Germany couldn’t have escaped the sport even if he’d wanted to.
“My dad was a pro, and my uncle played and is now a coach,” Caliskan said. “Soccer is everywhere in my town — anytime you drive you see a soccer field.”
For the past couple of years, the LMU men’s soccer team has been excelling in the West Coast Conference (WCC). They have built a team that wants to win and have done so by recruiting talent, especially talent abroad. Caliskan has been at the center of that: being named offensive player and midfielder of the year in the WCC in 2021. Just recently, Caliskan was named to the 2022 Men’s MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List.
Only once did Caliskan ever think about giving up on the sport. But after seeing his friends continue to play and his mom telling him to stick with it, he was reinspired and the rest is history. As Caliskan continued school, he played after class and, later, with a variety of travel teams. Today, many of his old teammates are spread throughout Europe and the U.S. —some playing pro and some playing for college teams like Hofstra University.
Constantly surrounded by a strong love for the sport, Caliskan knew he wanted to continue playing — but he was not exactly sure which would be the best for him: stay in Germany and play there, or see what options were available abroad.
“It is pretty hard to combine getting my bachelor’s degree and playing fourth or fifth division in Germany, so the U.S. sounded pretty cool,” Caliskan said.
Playing in the U.S. would give him a chance to continue playing while focusing on his education and getting a degree at the same time. The first step was to sign up with an agency that handles everything from the SAT, to highlight videos for programs to see the skill set of players. Once his profile was set, he could talk with coaches and programs that may be a good fit.
That was when LMU entered the picture. Speaking with coaches and other programs, he decided to make his way to the Bluff and enroll as a marketing major.
Comparing soccer in the U.S. and in Europe, there are a couple of main differences. The first being the relegation system. With this system, if a team is not performing at their best, they can be moved down: We see that in the U.S. with individual players in other sports, but never full teams. For example, in baseball, a player can be moved from the Majors to a AAA team if they are not performing at their best. In Europe, they do this with entire teams: creating even more of an incentive to win and to play at their best every season.
In the U.S., there is just one league: Major League Soccer, consisting of 28 teams. In Europe, soccer is divided into five main leagues: La Liga (Spain), the Seria A (Italy), the Premier League (England), the Bundesliga (Germany), and the fifth league varies. Within each league, there are professional club teams that compete with one another and play a handful of games outside their league. These teams have incredibly strong fan bases who show up time after time to support their players.
“The passion, money, and time they put into it…It’s tough to recreate that here,” Caliskan said. “ It’s just unbelievable what they do.”
When Caliskan was 16, he attended his first FC Cologne Game — the team he’d been cheering for since he was six-years-old. Cologne was playing Wolfsburg, and he and his friends took a quick trip to support their team at an away game. The seatless lower level of the Volkswagen Arena is where active fans stand and cheer on their team. In the levels above, there is seating and it is a bit more like how one sees the soccer stadiums here in the U.S.
At this particular game, Caliskan definitely got to see just how much passion the fans all have.
“Close to like two thousand people rushed to the top level, and security just shut the door on us,” Caliskan said. “Police showed up with riot gear and a lot of people got pepper sprayed… We all had to then had to stay by the entrance and could not even watch the game.”
Living in Los Angeles has been a bit of a transition for Caliskan. Perhaps one of the most specific things Caliskan has noted has been the lack of good and authentic international food. Back home, he was surrounded by authentic German cuisine; in LA, however, finding comparable food has been an exhausting effort. A couple of years into the search, there has still not been a winner for Caliskan yet. Disappointed about the German food scene, he also searched for Turkish food, since there is a big Turkish population in Germany. But Caliskan lamented that overall, the grub in LA could never match what it is like in Germany.
Other than his misfortune with the LA food scene, the rest of his time here has been a great experience. Caliskan shared his admiration for LMU and the beauty of this school. But of course, his favorite part has been playing soccer.
Caliskan and the rest of the men’s soccer team have created a strong bond and have great team chemistry that has brought them to the top of their division. He made a life for himself here and has formed lifelong connections on the Bluff, from his classes to his coaches.
In 2020, the Lions won the West Coast Conference and have continuously been at the top of the conference. They currently stand in second place behind the University of Portland, just a couple of games behind.
“It’s a good life here, I like LMU alot,” Caliskan said.
With a smile, Caliskan said the best thing about being a part of this team is that “we win.” Being a competitive player and always seeing the passion present in European teams is something he has carried with him onto the field and shared with his teammates here.
Although he can play one more year at LMU, Caliskan plans to enter the draft in January with hopes to continue his career in Major League Soccer. Taking the skills that brought him to LMU and mixing it with the skills he learned here, Caliskan is a unique player ready for the next step. He spent his summer in Nashville training, building connections with pro-players and seeing what life could look like in this next step in his career.
“They have a really nice set up.” Caliskan said. “They have some good players too: Hany Mukhtar —who is going to win the MLS MVP this year— he’s also German, so that was pretty cool.”
Photos: LMU Mens Soccer