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From German lower divisions and college titles to success in Louisville, Oliver Semmle seasoned for his age



Photo by Matthew Ralph

When the Philadelphia Union went out looking for a new backup goalkeeper during the offseason, they found a player who fit the profile in the USL Championship coming off a strong rookie season with Louisville City FC.

Now less than a month since joining the team, 25-year-old Oliver Semmle might not have long to wait to make his MLS debut. Star goalkeeper Andre Blake will be a game-time decision with a right abductor injury, leaving open the possibility of one of the team’s newest arrivals stepping in on opening night against the Chicago Fire.

“We see a guy that progressed and is ready for this next step so if he’s called upon tomorrow, I know he’ll be ready,” head coach Jim Curtin said Friday. “The backline has full confidence in him and he’s done really well in training so far, getting acclimated to his team.”

The Union paid a six-figure transfer fee (Transfermarkt lists the fee at around $116,000) after a season that saw him step in and lock down the goalkeeper position with 31 appearances. Holden Trent, who was drafted 13 picks before Semmle in last year’s draft – is also on the first team roster but he’s had a couple injury concerns so far in his second campaign.

Semmle won two national championships while in college at Monroe College (NJCAA) and Marshall (NCAA) after coming to the U.S. from his native Germany, where he played in the lower divisions with Karlsruher SC’s reserve team.

Louisville City signed Semmle after he didn’t make the team in preseason camp with the Colorado Rapids, which drafted him 41st overall.

Louisville City FC goalkeeper coach Scott Budnick said Semmle came in as a rookie a little more seasoned than most rookie keepers coming out of college. His maturity for his age was quickly apparent, Budnick said.

“He’s psychologically strong, which is important,” Budnick said. “He doesn’t get too too flustered and frustrated, which is an important trait to have. I know he played in Germany in some of the lower divisions so he wasn’t coming in as someone matriculating from high school to college and college into the pros.”

Semmle finished the season recording 14 clean sheets and conceded just 38 goals in 35 appearances in all competitions.

“I think his greatest trait is his ability to read the game and to understand what opponents are doing defensively against him, and how to sort of break those defenses if you will,” said Budnick, who played in MLS with the Tampa Bay Mutiny, Miami Fusion and New England Revolution. “There’s his composure, and reading or analysis of the game, along with, a calm mind and technically proficient feet. When you have those kinds of traits you know you’re starting off pretty in a good spot.”

Curtin acknowledged on Friday that it wouldn’t be fair to compare the newcomer to Blake, who is reaching MLS legendary status, but that there is a lot of confidence in the new arrival to get the job done should he be called upon for the opener and during expected absences this season when Blake is away on international duty.

“He has to be Oliver, that’s all we’re going to ask him to be and do his job if he’s called upon,” Curtin said.

Matthew Ralph is the managing editor of Philadelphia Soccer Now / Brotherly Game. He's covered soccer at all levels for many years in the Philadelphia region and has also written for, NPSL, PrepSoccer and other publications. He lives with his wife and two young children in Broomall, Pa., but grew up in South Jersey and is originally from Kansas.

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