Kosta Koukladas with Rot-Weiss Essen. Photo Credit: Top Drawer Soccer
Youth Soccer News: Life is “Ausgezeichnet” for Kosta Koukladas
Southern California Teen Makes It Big in Germany
In spite of the typical teenager’s bravado, very few high school-age boys and girls could move to a new country, learn a new language and culture, and thrive in a relatively short period of time. Kosta Koukladas not only could but did, moving to Germany from Southern California at age 14 to chase his dream of playing professional soccer. Now 16 years old, Koukladas is making a name for himself with Rot-Weiss Essen (RWE) in the German Regionalliga Nord, part of Germany’s third division, and looking toward a possible spot with one of three national teams.
Koukladas was playing with Irvine Strikers FC when the opportunity to go to Germany came along. Kosta had been playing in the annual Nike Manchester United Premier Cup in May, 2009, when he was identified by Rot-Weiss scouts. Also on hand at the tournament were scouts from Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen. In January, 2010, Kosta moved to Essen in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany for a six-month trial with the club’s Academy program.
His coach for two years at Strikers, Erik Kirsch, saw early on that there was something special about the young man. “I noticed his talent right away,” Kirsch said, “and I wanted to get him on the Academy team when he was 13 to play with the 16s.” Kirsch was so impressed with Kosta that he passed the boy’s name along to Rot-Weiss, where he had contacts from his own playing time in Germany, as well as family connections.
Koukladas had already shown promise, being called a “top level player in CSL gold/academy division” by U.S. Development Academy coaches. His coaches also had noted his “great vision for the second and third space” and felt he had “a great sense of orientation going to goal.” He had captained his team for six years, and was an ODP Pool Player when RWE came calling.
In Germany, Kosta settled in quickly to the routine of soccer (fútbol) and school, learning German in six months. Now fluent in both German and fútbol, he has become an important element in the Rot-Weiss attack. In America Koukladas had played midfield, but something about him told his new coaches that the boy was a natural striker. The move has been successful and Kosta scored two goals in a Rot-Weiss U15 German Cup win.
"This is what I've always wanted," Koukladas told Top Drawer Soccer.com earlier this year. "Everything here is about soccer - everyone knows and cares about the game and it's a part of the culture. I get the chance to learn from the best and do what I love every day.”
Among the “best” that Kosta is learning from is Rot-Weiss legend Willi “Ente” Lippens, who has taken the young American under his wing. Born to a Dutch father and German mother, Lippens played over 200 matches with RWE, as well as with Borussia Dortmund and the Dallas Tornado. He also made one appearance with Netherlands as a national team member.
Lippens, who is a family friend of Kirsch, was more than ready to work with the young American after watching him play in California. As Kirsch explains, Lippens saw that Kosta had potential and was willing to mentor him. According to Kirsch, Koukladas lives in his own “apartment” on Lippens’ property and has regular access to the Dutch-national midfielder.
"I'm able to watch soccer every day and he teaches me so much about the game," Koukladas told Top Drawer Soccer about his mentor. "I've learned tactics from him; how to be cool on the ball; where to shoot it and what a striker does - you name it." It is this “coolness” on the ball that has earned young Kosta the nickname “eismann” – “Iceman” in English – with his Rot-Weiss team.
Playing with Rot-Weiss has given Koukladas a true opportunity of a lifetime for the American youth, and he has made a complete transition from the Southern California lifestyle to his new home in Germany. According to Top Drawer Soccer, when Kosta visited his family back in California over the recent Christmas break, he found he missed the atmosphere of Essen. “I can’t wait to get back,” he said at the time.
Kirsch, who played five years in Germany, knows the power of the system for developing players. “German fútbol is one of the hardest mental places to achieve and be successful,” said Kirsch, “and I think because of that (Kosta) can really help our country one day on a national level”
Koukladas hopes to be able to play at the national level at some point in time, and will have several opportunities to make that dream come true. As an American son of a Greek father, Kosta is eligible to play for either country’s national team. He has also received dual citizenship in Germany, giving him a third option.
"I would love to play for the U.S. National Team," Koukladas told Top Drawer Soccer. "I've always wanted to do that. But it would certainly be an honor to play for any national team. Hopefully, in the future I'm able to do that."
If Kirsch, who is now involved with West Coast Fútbol Club, is any judge, that day will definitely come. “Every country has that one player who is dynamic and can tear you apart, like a Maradona or a Messi,” Kirsch commented. “I truly believe Kosta is that one player for the United States”
“I believe Kosta could be the Messi for America,” insisted Kirsch. “I know that’s a big statement, but in my heart and from what I’ve seen, that’s how I feel.”
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