When most Americans think of soccer royalty, Europeans often come to mind: Ronaldo. Özil. Pirlo. Rooney. What many don’t realize is the depth of European talent beyond those superstars, some of whom come up through the ranks of the United States’ best professional feeder programs—including southern Colorado’s Fort Lewis College (FLC).

The 3,864-student Division II school has become one of the most dominant men’s teams in the country by recruiting in Europe—a strategic step for a college that many American players might not have considered…until recently. The Skyhawks, with an impressive 294-111-33 record over the past 21 years, have earned three national titles (including last season’s championship) and have made two other finals appearances since 1999. “The top U.S. talent go to all the top schools,” says British-born Jeremy Gunn, a former FLC coach. “The foreign boys don’t really know anything about American college, and they are really excited to go to a good school, whether it’s a small college or a big one.”

Gunn, now head coach at Stanford University, put Fort Lewis on the soccer map by recruiting two British phenoms: John Cunliffe, a three-time All-American who was picked seventh in the 2007 MLS draft by Chivas USA; and Kieran Hall, selected in the 2008 MLS draft by the Houston Dynamo. By mixing in some top Colorado talent, Gunn led FLC to its first national title in 2005.

Current coach (and Irishman) Oige Kennedy has continued the tradition, using a similar Euro-Colorado talent combo. Last year’s roster comprised six Europeans—one-fifth of the team—most notably, German Fabian Kling, a 2012 draftee to Chivas. The result? National titles in 2009 and 2011, a 59-7-4 record in the past three years, and a NCAA Division II Coach of the Year award for Kennedy. Not bad for
a program almost nobody’s heard of.