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Point Park men's soccer team thriving with diverse lineup

| Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, 12:32 a.m.
Point Park men's soccer playersget loose before practice Thursday Oct. 25, 2012 at Cupples Stadium on the South Side. The team is made up predominantly by international players. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Point Park men's soccer players Romida Nanko of Cameroon (left), Matt Dziak from Pittsburgh (center) and Tyler Sakolsky from New Jersey (right) battle for the ball during practice on Oct. 25, 2012, at Cupples Stadium on the South Side. James Knox | Tribune-Review
Point Park men's soccer players Filippo Martunizi from Italy (left) and Jose Vaccarello from Venezuela (right) battle for the ball during practice on Oct. 25, 2012, at Cupples Stadium on the South Side. James Knox | Tribune-Review
Point Park men's soccer coach Jeroen Walstra (right) gives two of his players, Romida Nanko of Cameroon (left) and Tyler Sakolsky from New Jersey (center) some instructions during practice on Oct. 25, 2012, at Cupples Stadium on the South Side. James Knox | Tribune-Review

It didn't long for Jonty Loukes to make the switch from English English to American English.

After working at several camps in Pittsburgh, the freshman midfielder from Sheffield, England, quickly learned that a bib is a pinnie, boots are cleats and — the big one — football is actually soccer here.

“If I went home and said, ‘Grab a pinnie' or something like that,” he said, “I would get destroyed by my buddies back home.”

Despite the minor vocabulary issues, Loukes may have had one of the easiest transitions of the diverse roster of the Point Park men's soccer team.

The Pioneers feature players from 14 countries, with 11 of the top 16 hailing from outside the United States. The roster spans five continents, with only Australia and Antarctica not represented.

“At first it was hard to get a bond between the team because we had so many different nationalities, so many different cultures,” Loukes said. “We had to get used to each other.”

It's seemingly worked, as the Pioneers (10-6-0) received the top seed in the KIAC/GCAC tournament. A 4-1 victory over Talladega (Ala.) on Thursday moved Point Park into the championship game Saturday, where the Pioneers can clinch an NAIA national tournament bid for the first time in program history.

The influx of international players has helped the program improve from five straight losing seasons from 2006-10 to a 12-5-1 finish and a trip to the American Mideast Conference championship game last year.

Senior midfielder Alex Sala, who hails from Weiler, Austria, found Point Park through a European agency that helps match players with scholarships. And he wouldn't hesitate to recommend coming to the states or making the same choice again.

Besides minor cultural differences — language isn't an issue because most speak fluent English — the biggest adjustment players have to make is being thousands of miles from home and their support systems.

“I had to do it pretty much on my own,” Sala said. “At home it was all handed to me by family, parents, friends. Here you have to build up your own life, build everything up again on your own. And that's definitely helpful to me as a person. I wouldn't want to miss this experience.”

Coach Jeroen Walstra, a native of the Netherlands, hasn't exclusively targeted international players, but he is seeking to expand his global footprint even farther, to the Far East and beyond.

“Antarctica. Yeah, that would be really good,” Walstra said. “I'll take a couple penguins. Why not?”

Mike Palm is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mpalm@tribweb.com.

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