Recently former NPSL standout Lars Willemse signed a professional contract with FC Lienden in the Dutch third division.
“They have a very good squad with players that played on the highest level and I already can learn a lot from them,” Willemse said. “The competition is a great stage to show myself.”
Before signing in his home country of Holland, the defender spent four years with University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) as well as one season with the Birmingham Hammers and two seasons with Dutch Lions FC.
Willemse felt his time in Texas was a period of great development, a time he cherished and credited with his growth as a leader.
“My time at the Dutch Lions FC was really good, because we had such a good group of players and coaches. I think the biggest thing I learned was to be a leader, for the first time in a senior team I was captain and had responsibilities that I did not have before.”
Willemse said his time with the armband for Dutch Lions FC helped make him a better player. As a “multifunctional defender,” Willemse can play centre-back or right-back, noting he prefers right back so he can make attacking runs. He credits his 6’4” height in giving him an edge as a centre-half.
Willemse also noted the challenges the NPSL and its players present to a defender.
“The NPSL and the conference we played in was very strong. We played different types of opponents with some class players that challenged you every game. It is a stage where the best college players play together with players that are close to playing pro.”
In his time at UAB, Willemse appeared in 70 matches for the Blazers and helped lead his team to record five clean sheets in his senior campaign, and tacked on an assist as well. UAB men’s soccer head coach Michael Getman still holds Willemse in the highest regard.
“Lars is a fantastic player and person and is everything we want a UAB student-athlete to be. He is the model we want all of our players to follow.”
Willemse became a well-known player in Birmingham over the years, also starring for the Hammers for a season. Hammers President and General Manager Morgan T. Copes was very impressed with his time there, noting his many contributions to the club.
“The news of Lars getting the opportunity to play at the next level is no surprise. It is a testament to how hard he’s worked while playing for University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) and for us. Lars will always be a part of our first-ever team and hold a special place in this organization’s history. We wish him the absolute best.”
At Dutch Lions FC, Willemse’s leadership continued to shine through.
“In his final year the team became (conference) champions thanks to his leadership on the field,” Dutch Lions FC head coach Marco Pruis said. “He acted as a true captain and was a positive influence within our group. Signing with FC Lienden is a great step forwards for Lars.”
Willemse is looking forward to making the most of this opportunity.
“My short-term goal is to become an important player for my new team, and my long-term goal is to keep growing and developing so that I play myself in the picture to make steps to the second division in the Netherlands and even to different top divisions in Europe.”
Willemse’s college experience plus a comfortable fit with the NPSL has helped prepare him for the professional level, and Willemse sees a bright future for himself and soccer in Texas.
“I think soccer is growing in Texas and especially in Houston. Last summer (Dutch Lions FC) was a booming business with a youth academy that is growing and getting a fan base that I believe will keep growing over the years.”
Given Willemse’s leadership ability, technical skill, and physical tools, the Dutch defender is likely to continue his impressive run back in his home country.