Aug. 21, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Travis Brent started 64 of his 67 games in a Marshall men's soccer uniform, but he was just getting started on where he wanted to go in the world's most popular sport.
He went a long way to get there, but to a place that's not exactly foreign to him - the Netherlands.
Brent, a Thundering Herd defender from 2010-13, signed his first pro contract last week, with Heracles Almelo in Eredivise, the top league of Dutch football, and ranked as the eighth-best league in Europe.
He's starting his one-year deal in games with the club's developmental team - Jong Heracles Almelo - but practices and trains with the entire club on a daily basis. The Eredivise season began last weekend.
Now, it's up to the Virginia Beach, Va., native to put his best foot forward ... but it was his mother who helped Brent get his foot in the door, so to speak. Brent's uncle, Jacob Eltingh, knew a Heracles assistant coach, who agreed to give the Marshall graduate a trial.
Brent's dual citizenship (United States and the Netherlands) helped, Herd Coach Bob Gray said.
"My Mom (Sabine Brent) is a native of Holland," Brent wrote in a recent email from Almelo, responding to questions from HerdZone.com. "She was a great tennis player over here and was offered a scholarship at Tennessee-Chattanooga, where they won three (straight) NCAA Division II tennis championships. She met my Dad there while at school. My father (Jimmy) came from Staunton, Va., so put the two together and -- Bam! - it's dual citizenship.
"It led to convincing me to try my luck here because I felt that I was not given the same opportunities of exposure as a majority of the rest aspiring college soccer players had received. My dual citizenship has benefited me because it allows be to play anywhere in the European Union, depending on my passport. I am not required to have a visa for work, which benefits me compared to athletes who need visas to work within Europe.
"Foreign players are required to have a certain salary cap within the league I play. Due to there being no restrictions on me for when applying for work, the training staff knew they could evaluate me on a different set of standards - a set that allowed for me to let `my feet' do the talking. And, unlike anyone willing to give me a chance stateside, the coaches and general manager were pleased enough to offer me a contract."
Gray said Brent was "a stalwart" for the Herd and rarely left the field. Brent is the fourth former Marshall player currently under pro contract, joining Dan Withrow (MLS pool goalkeeper), defender Sterling Flunder (Pittsburgh Riverhounds, USL Pro) and midfielder Eddy Prugh (Boden, in Sweden).
Brent, 22, said he tried to remain confident throughout his Heracles trial.
"After initially receiving the trial, I knew that I had to focus on only `my game' once the week commenced," said Brent, an All-Conference USA third team pick last season. "I believe that focusing on only you -- as well as having confidence in your abilities -- are the two essential components to helping people get closer to their dreams.
"To me, I already believed in my attributes enough as a player, to feel confident about my daily performances. Currently the club has deployed me as a right-back. While playing for Marshall, Bob had positioned me at center-back. Making the transition to a right-back, however; has benefited me throughout this period because I enjoy the role of both defending and attacking. And that is where, I believe, the coaching staff was convinced enough by my abilities."
The 5-foot-10 Brent started on the 2011 Herd team that reached the C-USA Tournament final. He said his experience at Marshall was significant in his ability to get a pro deal.
"Marshall soccer was kind enough to teach me four things throughout my time there, each of which happened (in a separate) year," Brent said. "My first year, I had a great team. And when I say great team, I mean perfect locker room. That year's team taught me the importance of finding your role within the team, and believing in yourself enough to break into the top 11 because that is where they pushed you to be.
"The second season taught me the importance of learning more about the game in the sense of team unity. We had a difficult start to that season, and after coming together we did turn it around and get results. My third season taught me the importance of humility. We had a fantastic campaign throughout the entire season, until the end. I learned then to never get a big head.
"And my fourth season taught me the most important lesson to date. Last season, I learned the strength I had mentality to continue to push despite the team we had ... all of those lessons were important to me."
Gray pointed out the significance of having a Marshall soccer product playing in the Netherlands, which is one of the world's great soccer nations - and one that reached the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup and has three runner-up finishes and two other semifinal trips since 1974.
The emotion surrounding Dutch football has been evident to Brent since his arrival in the European nation, too.
"Holland is soccer crazy!" Brent wrote. "It is the most popular sport here, and clearly their World Cup campaign showed that. I experience it every day. At every training session, there are always passionate fans. The home matches sell out, and the history of teams is unbelievable. I completely find myself submersed in this environment."
Brent said it's up to him to show he belongs.
"Training over here is completely different than anything I have ever experienced before," he said. "Every training session, every drill, every weightlifting session is for a purpose; they all have meaning, and that meaning is to get players better every day, something which college sessions don't do.
"In college, not everyone on the team aspires to be a professional soccer player, so the mentality is different. Here, everyone knows what they are playing for.
"It feels amazing, but to be honest, the hard work has only begun. I have one foot in the door; now it is time to swing the whole door open and announce my presence in a new environment.
"Just because I have made it this far does not mean that I am satisfied. I have goals defined, and I am set on accomplishing all of them."