Published: January 9, 2012
The Germans call him ‘eismann.’
That’s ‘Iceman’ to you and me, and it happens to be a pretty apt description for the 16-year-old Kosta Koukladas, who is cool indeed.
Koukladas is living out his dreams a world away from home with the poise of someone who has done this before.
The American teenager is thriving for German club Rot-Weiss Essen , a club to whom he moved permanently from his Southern California comfort zone nearly two years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
“This is what I’ve always wanted,” said Koukladas, now a fluent speaker of German who will graduate from his Deutschland high school in a year’s time.
“Everything here is about soccer – everyone knows and cares about the game and it’s a part of the culture. I get the chance to learn from the best and do what I love every day.”
Koukladas equates his current study abroad to a Harvard education in soccer. Not only is he cutting his teeth with and against world-class players in a Bundesliga Academy, but he’s doing it under the mentorship of Rot-Weiss legend Willi "Ente" Lippens.
Koukladas lives in a separate wing on Lippens’ property, his own apartment of sorts, and has complete access to the former player’s nuggets of wisdom.
This often means film sessions or chats following his daily regimen of school and training.
“I’m able to watch soccer every day and he teaches me so much about the game,” Koukladas said. “I’ve learned tactics from him; how to be cool on the ball; where to shoot it and what a striker does – you name it.”
The results have revealed a cold-blooded goal scorer at the youth level for the club, whose first team plays in the Regionalliga Nord, part of the third division in German soccer.
When Koukladas first traveled to the German city of Eseen, in North Rhine-Westphalia, to go on trial for the club at age 14, he was an Irvine Strikers central midfielder.
But Rot-Weiss coaches saw him as a striker.
They were right.
Koukladas, who wears No. 10, has learned how to finish. He scored two goals in his team’s U15 German Cup victory and is quickly developing a reputation among the Rot-Weiss faithful.
None of this has come easy, of course, though Koukladas’ self assuredness makes it seem like it has.
He learned German in six months, transitioning smoothly to his German-speaking school. He not only learned how to play a new position but how to do so in snow and inclement weather – not a simple task for a So Cal kid.
If he’s homesick, it’s not for his American one. Back in the states on Christmas break, one of only two trips he’d been able to make back in 2011, he missed the rigid intensity of his schedule in Germany.
Kicking the ball around the yard with your brother and sister doesn’t quite have the same feel as battling the world’s best youth in Spain, Italy and Holland.
“I can’t wait to get back,” he said.
Koukladas will have options moving forward. He’s a Greek American with dual citizenship in Germany, giving him the ability to potentially play for three national programs.
He’s not sure if he he’s on the radar of the U.S. program, but they’re certainly on his.
“I would love to play for the U.S. National Team,” Koukladas said. “I’ve always wanted to do that. But it would certainly be an honor to play for any national team. Hopefully, in the future I’m able to do that.”