Liam Ireland hails from Edinburgh and was amongst FirstPoint USA’s Class of 2014. A former student of Stewart’s Melville College, prior to making the move to the US, Liam played for Hibernian, Rangers, Livingston and Edinburgh City. We recently caught up with Liam who is nearing the end of a very successful four years at the University of West Alabama. We heard how Liam and his family found the process of obtaining a soccer scholarship, how Liam has found life as a student-athlete, and his advice for any prospective student-athletes.
As to why Liam chose to pursue a soccer scholarship in the US, he notes that soccer has always been a big part of his life, and so this is something he wished to continue this in the best possible environment. “After not being given a professional contract and playing for Edinburgh City for a year in the cold and wet, I decided I wanted to play in the USA,” stated Liam. Having already spent a year at Edinburgh University prior to making the move, Liam made sure that the US would provide him with a good education, as well as a great environment to play.
Liam tells us that his family were excited for him when they first heard of his opportunity to go to America; adding that whilst his parents may not have been too thrilled for him to leave home, this was the kind of opportunity they had never had, so they were incredibly supportive of his decision.
With regards to obtaining his scholarship offer, Liam states that he was initially interested in attending Midwestern State University. However, after a deal there did not emerge, offers from numerous other schools came in. Ultimately, Liam accepted a soccer scholarship offer from the University of West Alabama.
When making the decision to accept the offer from UWA, Liam tells us that the main reason he chose to commit to the school was Coach Thorne. “After speaking several times on the phone I just got a good feeling,” stated Liam. There were also a number of international students on the team which reaffirmed Liam’s decision. The UWA campus is very secluded, with the nearest city being around 40 minutes away. However, being there to earn a degree and to play soccer, this was not a major concern for Liam upon arriving in the US.
Having already completed a year at Edinburgh University prior to starting at UWA, Liam noticed a difference in terms of the workload. He states, “the type of work is different; there [can be] a lot of multiple choice and true/false questions, which is almost unheard of back home.” However, Liam adds that balancing academic and athletic commitments can be a challenge, but getting into a routine is key. As long as you don’t allow your workload to build up, Liam advises that it gets a lot more straightforward to balance all of your commitments.
We asked Liam to tell us about his highlight from four years in the States:
“Definitely winning four Conference Tournaments in four years; we also won two Regular Seasons. My senior year was probably the best I could have asked for; winning Regular Season, Conference Tournament, reaching the last 16 of the National Tournament, and being named All-Conference Team.”
Liam tells us that throughout last Summer, he played for South Carolina United in the Premier Development League (PDL), and may have the option to return to the team this year. “They have a professional set-up, much like a pro team back home. I was part of the coaching team that helped out from ages 5-17,” Liam stated. “There is an opportunity to link up there and coach, as well as play again. They are affiliated with the USL team, Charleston Battery so there is a glimmer of hope of becoming professional.” Liam states that after graduation, there would also be an option to become a Graduate Assistant at a college however, this would prevent him from playing – something which he wishes to continue doing. Outside of soccer however, Liam has had the opportunity to pursue two internships at Heineken UK, where he will be returning to at Christmas as a member of the sales team.
With this experience behind him, both on and off the field, Liam will have plenty of options for after graduation, although he is still unsure on what his plans will be. Liam tells us that he will definitely play PDL again this Summer, and hopes to be noticed. After having lived in America for 4 years, Liam tells us that whatever he’s doing in the future, he can see himself living abroad.
Finally, we asked Liam if he had any advice for prospective student-athletes...
“Do well in your SAT! The more academic scholarship you can get the less a coach has to give you, which is good for everyone and may get you offers from bigger schools. I would ask anyone this; would you rather be in a smaller, quieter town and win tournaments, or be in a bigger, busier town and win nothing? I asked myself that question, and I won 6 trophies in four years.”