DAVID SMITH - Thursday, August 21, 2014
After spending the first four years of his professional career in Denmark, Conor O'Brien is looking forward to making the most of the chance to flourish in his new Austrian setting.
The New York native made the move south to Austrian Bundesliga club Wiener Neustadt in early-August, ending a four-season spell in Denmark that had its definite ups and downs.
His most prolonged period of sustained success came during an 18-month stay at top-division club SønderjyskE, where he proved to be one of the main driving forces behind the squad. However a mixed experience at his most recent destination, Odense BK, helped him focus in on looking for a situation where he felt he could thrive.
"My time in OB was a bit strange because when I first arrived I was a regular starter and I had some really good performances for the club," O'Brien explained to Yanks Abroad regarding his first few months at the club in fall, 2013.
"But when we came back from winter break the coaching staff had decided to go in a different direction and I was not really included in those plans. It was definitely not due to injuries or lack of effort though."
In addition to his deftness in the midfield, the former college All-American and Hermann Trophy finalist had also come to have been recognized as one of the most physically fit players in Denmark, however this proved to be of little advantage on a team where his style simply did not fit to the coach's plans.
"I showed up on the first day of preseason and won the fitness test, then won it again four days before the first match of the spring, and didn't miss one day of training for the remainder of the spring," he elaborated.
"So I kept in good shape and always waited for my chance to prove myself again. And I even got that chance with two games remaining in the spring. I started the final two matches and threw out some really good performances."
The momentum which he appeared to have established heading into the short summer break between seasons in Denmark again led to a deflating situation upon the team's return to training for the new term.
"However, once again, when we came back from summer holiday I won the fitness test setting a new club record. But once the training matches started I wasn't really in the coaches plans."
For a player who has never made any mystery of his resolute intention to suit up for the national team, yet another season of floating in and out of the coach's plans was not an option - even if it did mean packing up and moving to an entirely new and unfamiliar environment in order to secure regular playing time.
"So for me, I felt it was time to find a new club that was looking for someone like me and take a chance with them," he explained of his decision to take the long trek southeast to Vienna.
The possibility to stay within the country where he made the transformation from college standout to a full professional was nevertheless an option, but the Austrian club made a convincing case for him to pack up and leave after four years in Denmark.
"I actually had several other options in Denmark, but when I came down to visit Wiener Neustadt I was impressed with their vision and their plan for me so the offer was too good to turn down," he admitted.
"I am excited about this new opportunity and looking forward to having a really great season at the club."
An oft-forgotten complication for American players moving to countries with lower-profile leagues less filled by international players is the existence of an initial language barrier hindering communication with new teammates and staff not used to having to accommodate for new additions with whom English might be the only common language.
Wiener Neustadt is a particularly illustrative example, as every player on the roster apart from O'Brien is either native Austrian or has spent more than a decade in the German speaking country.
While O'Brien did put in the work to gain a functional proficiency in Danish during his four-year stay, the fact that near-flawless fluency in English is the norm in Denmark meant that there was always an easy fall-back in any situation.
Such a convenient situation is not the case in Austria, however he and his new compatriots are committed to assuring that this will not hinder his acclimatization to the new setting.
"Now I am prepared to learn as much German as I can," O'Brien assured. "My new teammates have been really great about helping me out so far though."
"And in football, it's easy to pick things up on the pitch," he continued. "So I am not worried about the language barrier. I think it will disappear in no time."
O'Brien did not feature in the team's most recent game, a 3-0 loss at SV Grödig, however could be in line for his debut next Saturday when the team hosts FC Admira Wacker.