Transatlantic: Men’s soccer makes contact in England

It’s not uncommon for the recruiting pipelines of the men’s soccer team to stretch across the nation, but now they are stretching across the Atlantic. A few years back, head coach Jesse Cormier studied abroad as a coach at the Sheffield Academy in Sheffield, England, where he became close with the coaching staff. “The academy is one of the best anywhere,” Cormier said. “They have a very good staff over there.” The relationship with the Sheffield staff proved to be useful. One of the coaches whom he had befriended called Cormier with news that would help spark a recruiting connection between the Academy and UVM. Cormier said his friend informed him that he had a player who was looking to move beyond Sheffield and get a good education, while still playing soccer.That player is current UVM freshman Mark Okoko. Cormier traveled to Okoko’s home in England to give his pitch in the fall of 2007 and in the weeks that followed Okoko made a decision. “It was all very quick, to be honest,” Okoko said. “I had the ultimatum to either stay in Sheffield and pursue a professional career or come over here [to Vermont].”The benefit of coming to Vermont to play soccer was that Okoko could pursue a degree while still being able to play, which was no longer an option in England. Okoko, who has four sisters with college degrees, said that education, as well as Cormier’s commitment to recruiting him were the deciding factors. “It shows something that he came all the way over to England to recruit me,” Okoko said. “It shows how adventurous the program is, and I knew it was the place I wanted to be.”But it was not a one-way exchange. As Okoko packed his bags and headed to Vermont, senior defender Connor Tobin was heading to Okoko’s hometown to study at Sheffield University and take part in the Academy from which Okoko was departing. “It was a joint decision,” Cormier said of Tobin’s choice to train at the Academy. “Connor decided to go get a different perspective, study and be a part of their Academy.” When asked about the differences of playing in the States versus playing in England, Tobin emphasized the level of professionalism that encompassed each player at the Academy. Tobin also acknowledged the differences in the way the game is played. “Everything is much more technical,” Tobin said. “These players have been in the system since the time they were twelve. Every touch is spot on.” While Tobin trained in England, Okoko was becoming used to the intense Vermont winters. “I knew it was cold in the winter, but I didn’t realize how cold it would be,” Okoko said. “I didn’t see the ground for the first three months I was here.”This season, Tobin’s improved play and influence from Sheffield has caught the eye of Cormier. “He came back with a lot more perspective on the game and has given a lot since he’s been back,” Comier said. Now, both Tobin and Okoko are in the starting lineup for the Cats, and the influence of the Academy’s program shows. “Both have some of the cultural things ingrained in them,” Cormier said. The team as a whole is benefitting from the experience of the two as “they’ve added those things to our environment,” Cormier said. “It’s been fun to watch and be part of.”