Most USL players come straight from the college ranks developing with other young players while balancing their studies and social lives before embarking on pro careers in the U.S. That is the case for the Monarchs with two exceptions: Kyle Curinga and Daniel Haber.
Both first-year Real Monarchs left college early to pursue professional soccer careers abroad. Now that experience is paying dividends as the two help lead the Monarchs to the top of the USL standings.
After just one season at Florida Atlantic, Curinga went first to Sweden to play with GBK Kokkola, then to Finland with FF Jaro. That gave him over 70 games of professional experience before the age of 23 – a far cry from what he would have gained had he stayed the college route.
“I always had the dream of playing in Europe,” Curinga said.
For Haber, the path was a bit windier. A three-year starter with Cornell, he was a Herman Trophy finalist after earning Ivy League Player of the Year honors as a junior. Following his 18-goal, seven-assist season, he left for Maccabi Haifa F.C. in Israel then ventured across Europe in Cyprus for Apollon Limassol and Ayia Napa and added one more season in Israel with Hapoel Nir Ramat HaSharon before returning to his native Canada to play with Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 in 2016.
During that journey, he scored 22 goals in 102 matches, coming to the Monarchs as a seasoned pro at just 24 years old when he signed this season.
“When the opportunity came up, I thought the most important thing was to get playing time and grow as a player,” he said.
Leaving college early to turn professional, especially to play in foreign countries, and adapting to both cultures was difficult for Haber.
“There were no Americans on the team,” said Haber. “And players aren’t necessarily friends.”
In Finland, there are ample similarities between Finnish and American cultures so for Curinga the hardest situation was being on his own.
“I had only ever lived away from home for one year previously before I left,” Curinga said. “The day-to-day was hard but I found it easier to relate with many of my teammates knowing English.”
They both had different experiences learning to live life in new countries, but they both agreed the style of play was the biggest difference from America.
“Here, it’s an extension of the college game,” Haber said. “The game is very athletic, very physical, every player gives 100 percent. Overseas, it’s more technical - like we have the ball, then you have the ball.”
Added Curinga, “The game in the U.S. is faster. There are more pure athletes. Here you can be more athletic and show your ability where abroad the emphasis is on touch and the team moves together.”
For both, the opportunities had run out with their respective teams and the best option for both was to come play in the USL. They’re both happy they ended up playing with the Monarchs and grateful for the chances they got to grow their games overseas.
“My time abroad set me up for success much better than finishing college would have,” Curinga said. “Being there helped me learn the everyday ins-and-outs of the life a professional athlete lives.”
Now with the Monarchs, there is a tight-knit team mentality that has taken their experiences internationally and integrated them into the fabric of the club. Working together with teammates from different backgrounds, but with a focus on team success, has led to a successful first half of the season.
“No one tries to do too much or take responsibility for the good or the bad,” Haber said. “It’s a group effort to make sure everyone is doing their jobs to the best of their ability.”
Curinga expanded, “I play a role but it’s not all me. It’s about the 11,12,13,14 individuals along with me who make it in the game.”
The Monarchs hold the best record in the USL this season at 14-2-3 and face Rio Grande Valley FC on Wednesday at 6 p.m. MT.