ALEX KURIAL - Tuesday, May 14, 2013
An intense promotion battle is raging in the Nemzeti Bajnoksag II, where Americans Shane Recklet and Jacob Wilson are looking to help lead historic squad Vasas SC back to the top tier of Hungarian soccer.
Located in the capital Budapest, Vasas have a long and rich history. The team is six time champions of the Nemzeti Bajnoksag I, Hungary's premier soccer league. In addition Vasas has won the Hungarian Cup four times, and were even semi-finalists in the 1958 edition of the Champions League.
Last season, however the club was shockingly relegated after a disastrous 5-16-9 record and found themselves in the second division for the first time.
Enter Recklet and Wilson. The pair joined Vasas during this year's January transfer window, eager to take on the challenge of gaining promotion into Hungary's top league. If they are able to pull off the feat, it will be a fine reward for two players who have ground it out in some of Europe's lower leagues, dreaming of the chance that is now in front of them.
While Recklet's and Wilson's soccer careers started on opposite ends of their home country, a similar series of events would see their European careers start together. Recklet, 25, is originally from Connecticut and played college soccer at Quinnipiac. Afterward he played in the Connecticut soccer league, where he was introduced to the idea of playing professionally in Europe by his coach. After a arranging a successful tryout in Germany, he eventually signed with SV Germania Schoneiche of the German fifth tier Oberliga.
The lure of European soccer made its call to Wilson, 27, at the same time. After playing at UC Berkeley in California, Wilson ran into injury problems in his senior year when he was looking to break into the MLS, so he tried a different avenue. He played semi-professionally but found an opportunity to also sign with Germania Schoneiche
Last summer the pair briefily split up as Recklet stayed in Germany, moving up to the fourth tier of the pyramid by joining VFC Plauen. Wilson meanwhile headed to Portugal to play for second tier side CD Feirense. The separation would not last long however.
"We were playing one game against Red Bull Leipzig and the president from Vasas was actually at the game," Recklet recalled. "He talked to me after the game and said they're interested in bringing me over, and they flew me out before the winter break in early December to check out the club."
This trip was the clincher for Recklet. At the same time CD Feirense was struggling in Portugal's Segunda Liga, leaving Wilson discouraged. The chance to play for a team with a rich history and promotional goals, as well as with the teammate Wilson had started his European journey with was more than enough to draw Wilson to Budapest as well.
Both Recklet and Wilson signed deals with Vasas that run through the end of the season and both expect to return next year if promotion is successful. But playing for Vasas has its challenges because despite the recent struggles, the club is prestigious and is always a big game for every opponent.
"No matter who you play, even one of the bottom teams, they're going to be motivated to beat you," Wilson explained. "Even if they're going down next year, they're going to want to beat Vasas."
The rivalry with Vasas is especially strong among the Budapest clubs and if Vasas is successful in promotion, five teams from the city could be in the top flight. Recklet believes this has led to some underhanded tactics from rival teams in the city.
In Hungary, a first division team's reserve team is usually situated in the second division, meaning it is possible for a club to swap players between leagues at will.
"I've been hearing a lot of whispers that a lot of the other teams don't want Vasas to get promoted," says Recklet."We actually played the second team from Ferencvaros, and they brought down like five or six of their first team players to play against us."
Added Wilson: "It definitely is tough for us. We've had to play against some of the guys that normally play in the first league. We try to use everything to motivate us, and definitely our coach reiterates that to us.
While any big team will have its detractors, it also has its fans, and in Budapest fan support for Vasas is serious business and promotion had been expected of Vasas after their stunning relegation.
"Ever since I've gotten here it's[promotion] been everyone's been talking about," added Recklet.
As it currently stands, Vasas have some work to do if they hope to return to the Nemzeti Bajnoksag I. With just two games left in the season, Vasas sits in second place with 49 points through 27 games and trails leaders Mezokovesd-Zsory by just three points. A pair of losses over the past two weekends have hurt Vasas' chances, but Recklet and Wilson believe that the team is still in good position to win the league and secure the lone promotional spot.
The two Americans have contributed heavily for Vasas in the second half of the season since they joined. Recklet, a defensive midfielder, has played in 10 games so far while Wilson, a striker, has added four goals in 11 appearances .
"We haven't really hit the panic button yet. We're still in a good position," Recklet said of the Vasas mindset. "Everyone's still going for it 100%, looking forward and looking up. At this stage you just gotta take it one game at a time."
The schedule certainly favors Vasas whose final two games are against the eighth and thirteenth place teams in the league. Vasas will likely need to win out, and hope Mezokovesd-Zsory loses at least one of their remaining games.
The chance to play first division soccer in Europe has been a longtime goal for Recklet and Wilson, and both appreciate just how close their dream is.
"It would definitely be a career highlight," Wilson concluded. "If we go up I would feel like I would be a big part of that, and open a lot of doors for me soccer wise."
"Ever since I came out here my personal goal was to land some type of first division contract," Recklet concluded. "Coming here and seeing where the team was and seeing where the team is now, it would mean a lot for my career and it would be a great opportunity if we could move on. It'd be huge. My goal is to play at the highest level I can for as long as I can, and obviously enjoy it while I'm doing it. This is such an incredible opportunity."