Silver Spring, Md. native Erik Opsahl won’t be going back to St. John’s University for the second semester of his freshman year.
Instead, he’ll be heading over to England to begin his professional soccer career with Reading FC in the Championship, one step below the vaunted English Premier League.
The 18-year-old central midfielder was offered a contract through the end of the current club season after a successful trial last month. It also comes with an option for next year if he impresses.
Opsahl’s moves came as no surprise to his youth coach at Pachuca Internationals.
“It didn’t surprise me to see a second-division team such as Reading finding him,” said Peter Mehlert, who also works as an assistant professor at American University.
“Erik’s a great kid. He’s a hard worker – that’s one of his attributes – and he’s passionate, another key ingredient for a good soccer player.”
At 5'10", 175 pounds, Opsahl possesses a number of strong qualities for a player his age.
“He’s very good in the air, and he’s a relentless player in pressuring you,” Mehlert said. “For a very big, strong kid, he’s very good on the ball. He’s got tremendous first touch.”
Mehlert has known Opsahl since he was seven, playing youth soccer in Bethesda. He was his coach at the U-16 and U-18 level with Pachuca, a three-year old club affiliated with one of the most successful clubs in Mexico.
After graduating from Montgomery Blair High School last spring, Opsahl headed north to New York to continue his playing career at St. John’s. However, Opsahl didn’t fit in well with the program, only finding minutes in three games all season. Unable to mesh well with the team’s style, he elected to try his options overseas, something he had planned on pursuing even before heading to college.
“Before even going to college or enrolling at St. John’s or at other schools, he had spoken about playing professional soccer,” Mehlert said.
Previous travels had helped fuel that desire. Opsahl spent previous summers in Brazil training with Fluminense, and also completed trials with Bordeaux in France.
Opsahl’s heritage made the move possible. Playing for an English club requires a work permit, generally only attainable by qualifying through national team representation. In Opsahl’s case – his father is from Norway – he doesn’t need to apply for the permit.
A club like Reading will give Opsahl a look on the U-18 team at first, and if he's deemed ready enough, a chance to play with the reserves. His contract only lasts through June, so he'll have to impress sooner rather than later.
Mehlert thinks that the future for Opsahl is bright, because of his positive attitude, passion for the game, and the support of his family, who helped make this move a reality.
As he heads over to England to begin his professional career, anything is possible.