In Seville, Spain, soccer — like spectacular buildings and mind-blowing food — is part of the heritage. Real Betis and Sevilla FC, the city’s two professional teams, might mean as much or more to the Sevillanos. The importance of “futbol” in Seville dates back 125 years. Sevilla FC, founded in 1890, is historically considered the most successful club in southern Spain. Both teams compete in Spain’s highest division, the Primera Division.
Miguel Gutierrez grew up in Seville. As a child, he hoped to play professional futbol when he grew up. Yet even with two great teams right in his backyard, Gutierrez decided to move 4,000 miles away to play the beautiful game at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach.
While Coastal’s program is almost 40 years old, that is infancy when compared to Betis and Sevilla.
Gutierrez admitted that people back home thought it odd and abnormal for a Spaniard to go to American to play “soccer.” Yet more and more college coaches in the U.S. are finding and recruiting players from around the world. The Big South Conference has 47 soccer players from Europe. Players also hail from South America, Australia, parts of Asia and Russia.
The main reason players are coming to America? They don’t have to sacrifice an education for soccer.
“Yes, it was complicated coming to America,” said Gutierrez, in first year with Coastal. “This is a special opportunity for people though. In Spain, going to university is one thing and trying to play soccer is another. You either try to be a professional player or go to school. It is two different things. You can’t do both.”
Being in America gives Gutierrez the opportunity to play soccer in the short term and secure an education for the long term.
“The life of the soccer player is short,” Gutierrez said. “When I finish my soccer career, I’ll probably be 30 years old. I have to have something else (afterwards). It is important to have a future after soccer.”
Diplomas and NCAA postseason tournaments appearances have been the norm the last five years for the Chanticleers. Coastal Carolina’s success has been in part because of their diversified and talented players. The Chanticleers have won three Big South regular season and tournament titles and have made five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
Sergio Camargo, from Columbia, was second on the team in points last year. Ashton Bennett of Jamaica and Brazilian Pedro Ribeiro were two-time All-Americans the last five years.
This year, at 5-0-1, the Chanticleers are ranked fifth in the country. It is the program’s highest ranking ever. The top six point leaders are from Columbia, Texas, Guatemala, Orlando, Spain and Iceland. In total this year’s Coastal squad has seven players from Europe, three from South America and one from Africa and Canada respectively.
The process of finding international players is a laborious and complicated one.
“We have recruiting connections all over,” Coastal Carolina assistant coach Kyle Russell said.
“It’s about tracking down coaches, looking under every rock and running down rabbit holes to find out which kids are eligible and if they are interested in coming to the States.”
In the case of Gutierrez, word of mouth played a huge part.
“Salif Al Hameli played in Spain a little bit before coming (to Coastal Carolina),” Russell said. “Salif knew a coach who had some players who were looking to go to an (American) university and it didn’t work out with another coach. Miguel was playing at a high level (for his age) in Spain. We were able to see video of Miguel and his whole team play. After that we contacted the coach.”
Gutierrez was named College Soccer New National Team of the Week the first week of September. Starting at center back against Charlotte, Gutierrez moved to the midfield and scored in the 54th minute. It was the first of his two goals on the year. And while Gutierrez might not be scoring in a Primera Division game any time soon, he is moving forward with his future and moving the Chants closer to a title too.
Above: Miguel Gutierrez moved 4,000 miles from one of the strongholds of Spanish soccer for a chance to play and an education at Coastal Carolina (Courtesy Coastal Carolina Athletics)