CHAMPIONSGATE, United States â€” Robert Moewes has his hands full at Toronto FC’s training camp.
The 23-year-old German goalkeeper is trying to earn a contract with the club, likely with its Toronto FC 2 USL affiliate, while hitting the books for his master’s degree in management at Duke University.
“It’s not easy, that’s for sure,” Moewes (pronounced Murr-vez) said with a laugh.
He was in class at Duke on Jan. 17 when someone texted him that he had been drafted by Toronto in the third round (52nd overall) of the MLS SuperDraft. He was the sixth goalie taken, his international status likely scaring off some clubs.
“You can tell he’s a smart kid,” said Toronto No. 1 ‘keeper Clint Irwin, who applauds Moewes’ drive for his degree. “If you’re going to get a graduate degree from Duke, I think you might as well do that. It’s a great school and it’s only going to help him in the long run.”
A native of Dortmund, Moewes played for the Borussia Dortmund academy under-12 and -13 teams before switching to rival Schalke 04 as an under-15 and -16 player. He moved to Rot-Weiss Essen, a fourth-division club, and was part of the German under-19 program before electing to combine studies and soccer in North America.
“In Germany it’s tough to study and play at a high level,” he said. “My team had practices in the morning, sometimes twice a day. It was tough to do both.”
Binghamton University, a New York state school that has had success scouting in Germany in the past, liked what they saw and offered the six-foot-three 195-pounder a scholarship.
Having already started his studies in Germany, he had to sit out his first year with the Bearcats in 2013 â€” he could practise but not play. The next two years he was America East goalkeeper of the year.
A member of the all-academic team, he completed his BA in business administration with a focus on finance. Then he transferred to Duke to play some more soccer while starting his graduate studies.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s a great school,” he said. “The campus is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The facilities are great.”
He was named team MVP in his one season at Duke, posting a 1.36 goals-against average while playing all but 28 minutes in goal.
Moewes has already had to miss some time in Toronto’s camp to go back to Durham, N.C., to make presentations and take exams. He will have to make several more visits to school before his last exam May 4.
Combining school and soccer is not something one usually encounters at this level. Toronto, so far, has allowed Moewes to balance both, with head coach Greg Vanney â€” while acknowledging he is not the expert on goalkeepers â€” saying the big German has been “doing OK” considering he has not been able to attend all the pre-season sessions.
Moewes can’t complete his course online and if he delays his studies, he says it would affect his scholarship. “It’s much easier to try to finish it right now.”
While others relax after training at Toronto’s well-appointed resort hotel in the Orlando area, Moewes is doing homework.
If soccer does not work out, consulting or investment banking could beckon. A degree from Duke comes in handy. Speaking German, English, Italian and French won’t hurt â€” he lived in Italy for two years as a child and often visits friends there.
Pro soccer has always been his goal, however. When he left college to go back home on holiday, he continued to train with his old team to stay sharp.
Moewes is a big unit, topped by a Tintin-like wave of hair surrounded by shaved sides.
“For how big he is, he’s actually very good with the ball at his feet,” said Irwin. “You can tell he’s got a pedigree of playing at a high level, in college and probably in Germany as well … he’s got a lot of potential.”
With Irwin and Alex Bono holding down the first-team jobs, Moewes is competing with trialist Mark Pais and some holdovers back home to win a job with TFC 2. Quillan Roberts, No. 3 on the Toronto depth chart, moved on in the off-season and the club is looking for someone who will play the entire USL season.
“I’ll have to work my way up,” said the German. “Right now I’m just trying to see how things work out with school and with Toronto, if they’re willing to continue helping me.”
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press