Preparing athletes for a career in elite sport is treated very differently across the pond, with players typically breaking into professional sides at an older age than we are accustomed to in England.
“There’s no equivalent to the English academy system, you don’t turn pro when you’re 17, the normal thing to do is to go the University way around.” Koritsas explained before giving a little background on his youth development.
“I grew up playing for a local club that at my age was better than playing for DC United, when I was younger I was wanted by them but I stayed where I was because development wise it was better.”
Alex Koritsas earned a big break and was offered a scholarship at North Eastern University in Boston, after being watched in a showcase match. A crucial first rung on the ladder climbed, however the pathway did not materialise in the way he had hoped, leaving him further pioneering to take the courageous gamble of coming to England.
“You’d see the coverage in England, all these players making their debuts at 17, 18. For me to go over after I’ve finished University when I’m 21, 22, it’s too late by then.
"University football in America is more geared towards the gym than actually playing football. We’re in there two times more than we’re actually on the pitch. I wanted to get to England as soon as I could. Though the University was one of the best in the country for the course in Finance I was on, the chances are I graduate and come out with a decent job, but it was always football on my mind.
"So I took the decision to leave, move to England not knowing anybody and start from scratch.”
The approach to improving players, first based off of their technical skill set rather than physical makeup, really appealed to Koritsas, who saw fewer opportunities given to smaller players at home.
“In America it’s the complete opposite, they look at your physical attributes before your technical ability. Going to England I knew they would look at my technical aspect rather than my physical aspect, it’s the other way around. The shorter players like Messi for example, if he grew up in America, there is no way he’d get picked up by anyone, which is quite sad to say but it’s the way they look at people.”
Koritsas had been in contact with coaches in England, and one in particular at Watford said that as he had already missed the boat with U18 football he would have to trial for U23 setups. A level of football that based off of his lack of experience in the men’s game would be a difficult progression.
“I knew that it was now or never so I decided to take that gamble, after I got those responses. I landed at a college just outside of Leicester, the director of the college had a good connection with Kettering Town. So I played for them while I was completing my studies. I thought they’d set me up with a League Two club but when I went into Kettering Town I was really surprised with the level of these National League South teams, they’re very good.”
Building momentum towards the end of that season Koritsas began looking to use his experience with the Poppies as a stepping stone.
“By the end of the season, I started gathering footage and I got in touch with people at Brentford. I trained with their U23s (just before the summer of 2019). It became clear that they didn’t like me so I didn’t know whether to give up, come home and go back to University as I’d been in England for a year. Then someone I knew from Leicester, recommended I go off to Spain. He got me into a fourth division club that I went into for pre season. I was there for three months and the club went bankrupt.”
From Kettering to Brentford to the Spanish fourth tier, but still no let up, the drive of this young man can never be underestimated.
“Another contact I made in Leicester was a sports lawyer that dealt with player contracts at Crawley. I trialled for a week with Gabriele Cioffi and he signed me after a week. It took two months for me to get international clearance from the Spanish FA so I didn’t get my paperwork through until the end of January. This was when Gabby got sacked and John Yems came in. A month later coronavirus happened and the season got cancelled. I was training there from December to February when everything stopped and I never got my chance to make an appearance.”
One more kick in the teeth later and due to the international clearance delay leading to Koritsas only being available for selection for a very brief time before the season was suspended, John Yems had not seen enough to warrant offering the 21-year-old a new deal with the limited resources at his disposal.
“I had a phone call with John Yems at the start of the season and he said that with your lack of experience in League Two and financial problems at the club, we can’t afford to give you anything for next season, but you can stay around in training with us until something pops up. So that’s what I’ve been doing.”
There was similar complications as the American looked to complete a move to Bromley of the National League with the club very interested but unable to provide anything financially, such is the new climate with clubs below the top two tiers in England taking a huge hit from the losses of matchday income based around playing matches behind closed doors. Koritsas has returned to the US for the Christmas period but left on very good terms with the staff at Crawley and intends to return soon.
“When I left I had a conversation with John Yems, he said the door is always open for you here, just at the minute there is nothing to offer you.”
Koritsas may encounter opportunities from other clubs, potentially MLS reserve teams in his time back in the States but he would see them as only vehicles to gain more experience that would give him more traction the next time he attempts to make it in the English professional game.
“England’s the goal, it’s always been the goal.”
When asked about his mental strength to deal with rejection and his clearly very strong self belief, Koritsas explained.
“A lot of it comes down to confidence, knowing that when one says no, there’s thousands of other clubs out there. Being at Crawley, I know I can play at the level, it’s just a matter of getting the experience and acclimatised to what it’s like playing there. Crawley have been the club that when the time is right, I can push on.
Looking back on it now, I wish I’d come over earlier. Even if it was from U16s, to get released at 18 to 23 and fall down to a League One or Two club.”
This is definitely not the last you will hear of Alex Koritsas, let’s hope that the stars align sooner rather than later and we see the talented central midfielder grab his opportunity with both hands.