By Matthew Peaslee
Perhaps the most impor- tant phone call of Kara Cooper’s life went to voice mail.
She didn’t know that the blocked number belonged to Sorin Radu, head coach of Karlsruhe Sport Club — a professional soccer team in Germany.
“Of all the phone calls for me not to answer,” Cooper said, laughing. “He said a contract was on the way, if I was interested.”
On Dec. 6, she received an email — in German. Even though she spent two weeks in Germany trying out and working with the team, Google Translator came in handy. The 2008 Youngstown Christian graduate will officially sign the contract on Friday and will be in Karlsruhe, Germany in mid-January.
“It’s still surreal,” she said. “It still hasn’t sunk in.”
After playing soccer at Youngstown State for two years, Cooper transferred to Akron where she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in education. She currently works at the Mayor Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center in Niles, where her boss, Tavi Muresan, helped get the ball rolling to fulfill her dream.
“He had a friend who coaches at Liberty FC, a club team in Cleveland,” she said. “He had connections in Germany and it was all about some people knowing other people and the right people caught wind that I wanted to play over there.”
So she passed on a YouTube link with her soccer highlights and crossed her fingers.
“What are the odds of this happening?” she said. “I didn’t think anything would come from it.”
Word circulated in foreign circles and Cooper had the opportunity to go to Germany from Nov. 8-20 to meet the team, coaches and get a taste of a new culture. It’s one that she feels she and husband, Kevin Garland, can adjust to quickly.
Once they move to Germany, they’ll have a fully furnished house waiting for them, a monthly stipend and work opportunities readily available. Her contract expires in May.
“I would love to stay, though,” Cooper said. “The coach said we’ll see how the team does if I’ll be renewed for the following year.”
She anticipates playing at the right outside back position. At YCS, Cooper was an award-winning forward. She scored 120 goals, including an eight-goal performance in an Eagles’ 15-4 romp of East Liverpool on Aug. 23, 2007. In her sophomore year at YSU, she led the Penguins with 18 points and was a second-team All-Horizon League selection.
Her transfer to Akron before the junior season wasn’t just a transitional stage with a new school, program and teammates. She had to adapt to a new position.
“[Former Zips head coach] Chris Pfau sat down with me, before I even played a game, and talked about playing after college,” she said. “He told me that, as a striker or forward, that I could set records at Akron. Or, I could play center-back and have a better chance of playing at the next level.”
The move has obviously paid off.
“I’m much more versatile because of him,” Cooper said. “Yeah, it was fun playing up front where I could score goals, but I was like the sergeant in the backfield keeping everyone in line.”
Cooper has played for two semi-pro teams, the Virginia Beach Piranhas (2010) and the Dayton Dutch Lions (2011). Now, she plays in year-round indoor leagues and works out at Max Athletic Training in Boardman.
She’s comfortable with her speed and strength, but is a bit weary about getting back in the competitive flow. However, a friend says she’ll fit right in.
Rachel Gerdin, a former teammate with the Piranhas, has been playing in the same German league for the past year.
“She has been really comforting to me,” Cooper said. “She said I’ll be fine playing over there and I can’t wait to see how I can adjust.”
The biggest obstacle may have already been cleared.
Cooper and Garland, a “huge baseball, basketball and football fan,” according to her, were married in July. Kevin now has adopted soccer as a favorite sport.
“He never even played until he met me,” she said. “Now, he’s playing in an indoor league, too.”