Not many soccer players from Stow, Ohio get the opportunity to play at the professional level. It’s even more rare to see a player with roots in Northeast Ohio sign a professional contract in Slovenia and have the chance to play in the UEFA Europa League. Sachem Wilson has done just that after spending time with Cleveland United, Liberty University, and most recently the BuxMont Torch of the NPSL.
Wilson is the latest NPSL Combine participant to sign a pro contract, joining Tyler Pasher, Brian Cunningham, Waleed Cassis, Bljedi Bardic, Jackson Eskay, and Brenden Alfery at the next level.
What separates Wilson from the rest is that he signed with a team in Eastern Europe, ND Gorica of the Slovenian PrvaLiga. That team has a very important match coming up Thursday, June 30 as they face Maccabi Tel Aviv F.C. from the Israeli Premier League in the first qualifying round of the Europa League. Wilson is one of the few Americans that have had the honor of playing in one of Europe’s most prestigious competitions.
“As far as preparing to play in Europe, it’s a really exciting opportunity. I get goosebumps just thinking about it, because this was always the dream – nice pitch, big stadium full of fans, in a game that matters on a respected stage. The team and community seem pretty enthusiastic as well as it’s a long hard and nerve-racking process just to qualify. But it’s eye-opening the professional way in which they approach training and games, and it’s been a great learning experience for me as I try to prepare to hopefully make an impactful contribution myself.”
Wilson credits the aforementioned combine as a big reason for his success, calling it an amazing experience.
“It was great to play with and against some of the best players in the country, but for me the best part was the experience of the people we were surrounded by in terms of the coaches and staff there. I was able to ask questions about the next level – both the business and self-marketing side of things as well as the on the field aspect. The wisdom I gleaned there definitely played a huge part in helping me decide which direction to take my career to end up where I want to end up.”
Getting to the combine required Wilson to stand out amongst the 2000+ players from over 80 teams in the league. It’s quite obvious he learned a lot as an NPSL player, becoming a fan favorite with the Torch thanks to his impressive play on the field.
“The NPSL really helped to develop my physicality. My first year was the summer after my freshman year at Liberty, and all of the sudden I was playing against men as a striker. It really forced me to find different ways to create opportunities, but I also had to be willing to get physical with defenders and earn my chances. The NPSL taught me that anyone can become lethal if they’ve gotten their reps in, studied the film, and made enough mistakes. Combine that with a willingness to fight, and dreams can come true.”
Being involved with the Torch proved to be a valuable experience for Wilson both on and off the field.
“Playing for the Torch taught me the benefits of hard work, and the dangers of over-working. It taught me the importance of intentional communication in any kind of relationship. It taught me how to deal with frustration, with success and with failure, and how to be unashamed of what I believe. These are all lessons that I think are essential to being a true professional, but most importantly to being a man of love and honor.”
The Torch’s president and head coach was a big reason behind Wilson’s growth as a player and person.
“Rich Sparling has been a real mentor and father figure for me over the past three years and he has really helped me grow both as a player and as a man. Also, I was really sharpened by the guys on the team and the encouraging environment they created.”
Wilson grew into a capable playmaker during his time with the Torch, scoring twenty goals over three seasons. He was a coach’s dream and the ideal teammate, according to Sparling.
“It was more his consistent leadership and character that made him special. He never reacted when a call would not go his way or when a teammate would make a bad play or when an opponent would try to get into his head. He was as focused as any player I have ever coached.”
That focus allowed him to make the long journey to Eastern Europe, thousands of miles from where he grew up in Northeast Ohio. He also demonstrated great patience, waiting for his moment to shine.
That moment came earlier this year with NK Adria, a club in Slovenia’s third division. He would take the league by storm, finishing first in scoring and points with 11 goals and two assists. This stellar performance put Wilson on the radar of larger clubs, such as ND Gorica, who quickly moved to sign him. This move would allow him to move up two divisions in a matter of a few months, which is completely unheard of. To say this was a big moment for the former NPSL standout is quite the understatement.
“Obviously I was beyond excited. My hand was shaking as I signed the contract. My family has sacrificed a lot for my dream, and I knew their sacrifices were now a step closer to being validated, along with those of everyone who believed in me.”
Wilson is thought of as a pioneer for Americans in Eastern Europe, being the first to make it to Slovenia’s top league. It’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s an unexpected honor to make a mark like this for my country. I hope to represent us well and open the door for other Americans to be able to come and play here. It’s a small country but everything is connected here in Europe. It’s really the perfect place for us to start because we can adapt and prove our worth, and there are eyes everywhere for when the time is right. I’m living proof. Hopefully my being here turns out to be one small step for Slovenia, and one giant leap for American players who are willing to make the sacrifices.”
Making sacrifices and chasing dreams is the story of Sachem Wilson, who has become a role model and great example for others to follow. People from across the U.S., including those connected with Cleveland United, Liberty University, the BuxMont Torch, and the NPSL, will be cheering him on as he blazes a path in the Slovenian game.