KENYA BROWN - Friday, March 6, 2020
Mael Corboz's odyssey in the professional soccer ranks has now landed him in the Netherlands where he is helping Go Ahead Eagles make a push for promotion to the Eredivisie.
The midfielder, who was born in Mobile, Alabama, comes from a family of soccer players as his father, Michel, played semi-professionally in his native France before moving across the Atlantic Ocean to work on his postdoctoral research at the University of South Alabama.
The elder Corboz would go on to share his passion for the sport to Mael and his two sisters, Daphne and Rachel, which led to all three of them having successful college soccer careers - Mael played at Rutgers University and the University of Maryland respectively while his sisters played at Georgetown University.
Now, at 25 years old, Mael has spent several years playing professional soccer, which has led him from the American ranks to Germany and finally the Netherlands. He told Yanks Abroad that he credits his time at Maryland under long-time head coach Sasho Cirovski for preparing him for the next level while also acknowledging the differences playing in Europe compared with the United States.
"I was lucky enough to play for a really good program at the University of Maryland. Maryland provides its athletes with all the tools they need to improve their game and progress, so in that regard, the level was already high," he said. "The biggest difference to where I am now is the overall individual quality that every player has, especially technical. I find that the emphasis on technical ability in Germany and the Netherlands (I can really only speak for those two) is much higher than in the U.S., especially at the youth level. Most players here have been brought up through the youth ranks of well established Dutch clubs such as PSV Eindhoven, Vitesse Arnhem, etc., where they stress the technical aspect of the game from a young age. As a result, the overall technical quality is much higher than I had experienced in college."
"The other big change has been tactical. The college game is, once again, very physical and a lot of qualitatively inferior teams bridge the gap to the better teams through physicality, which is normal, given there are so many Division I teams and only a finite pool of players to choose from. I had already experienced some fairly radical, albeit interesting, tactics when I transitioned to the New York Red Bulls professional team but moving to Europe opened up a new world for me in that sense. In my experience, there is much more importance put on tactics, whether it be offensive or defensive, here in Europe and as a result, an overall better understanding of the game. Obviously, I can't speak for the professional game in the U.S. as I spent a fairly short time there professionally."
After being released by the New York Red Bulls prior to the start of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, Mael would play for the now-defunct Wilmington Hammerheads in the United Soccer Leagues before heading to Germany where he signed with MSV Duisburg. While he made his debut for the team in a regional cup competition, he did not see much time on the field and after two years he headed off in search of a new team.
The former Terrapins' captain then signed with SG Wattenscheid 09 in Germany's Regionalliga West, the fourth tier, in January 2018. It would be at this stop where he saw more playing time as he tried to help the team in their fight for promotion to the 3. Liga.
While Mael played well, the team's financial difficulties ultimately saw him leave at the end of the 2018-2019 season, just months before Wattenscheid officially dissolved due to bankruptcy.
However, he did not have to wait long to find a new team as interest from Go Ahead Eagles saw him head across the border to the Netherlands to see what they were all about. Mael admits that he only had vague knowledge of the team, but he was quite interested in the technical aspect of Dutch soccer as it would suit his game.
And he hasn't looked back since signing a two-year contract with the team in July 2019.
"After doing some research and going to a game here in Deventer, I quickly saw that the club is quite special," he explained. "Although we currently play in the second division, there is a certain atmosphere or ambiance about the club and in the stadium that rivals many Eredivisie clubs. The main aspect, however, that convinced me was really the technical, attacking style of Dutch soccer and the intrigue that comes with going to a new country and experiencing a new outlook on the game."
Since moving to the city of Deventer in Overijssel province, which is located in the eastern part of the Netherlands, the midfielder has played an important role for Go Ahead Eagles as he has so far played in 25 games and contributed with five goals. They are currently in fifth place in the standings, which would qualify them for the promotion playoffs.
Just like any other professional, Mael believes his team could be contending for one of the two automatic promotion spots. However, he still feels upbeat about their chances of making the playoffs and pushing for promotion at that stage.
He noted several factors that have lead to the team to the position they are in now this season.
"I think our success thus far lies in having an overall high-quality team. I think the staff really did their research last summer and brought in some high-quality players that fit well into the type of system Go Ahead Eagles tends to play. We went on a 22 game unbeaten run in all competitions which is also just a testament to the team's mental strength. The team gets along well on a personal level as well, which definitely can't hurt. I'd say it's really just a combination of factors coming together to make us a team that's very hard to beat," he explained.
While a spot in the playoffs has not been guaranteed yet, Mael is bullish on his team's chances of reaching the next stage. And he hopes at that point they will hit their stride, making it impossible for their rivals to beat them.
"The playoffs are always difficult to predict. Anything can happen, so with that in mind, it'll be important to click as a team at the right moment. Obviously, the team has to stay healthy but I think the main point is to find a way to be fresh so late in the season and peak as a team come May. Until then, though, we'll try to secure the playoff spot and maybe bother the top teams vying for direct promotion," he said.
On the personal side, the two-time First Team All-Big Ten player has been pleased with his performances thus far for Go Ahead Eagles.
"Statistically, it's definitely my best season but I think that's just a product of playing in a slightly different, more offensive position than I had played in previous years. It resembles more of how I played at Maryland, as a box-to-box midfielder who can come back deep to get the ball but also has the freedom to go forward and finish in the box," he said. "Once again, it's a culmination of many things. I'm 25 now and have been forced to mature as a person and as a player, especially being in Europe away from family and friends. I think that's turned into a strength on the field as well."
"Additionally, as I mentioned, I have learned so much tactically playing in different systems that it's easier to recognize certain situations on the field. On the technical side of the game, it's just been years of working on my game whether that's daily training with the team or extra sessions on my own, the hours add up. I really believe that regardless of age, players can always continue to develop in some way or add a new dimension to their game and I hope to keep improving."
Mael mentioned that the best highlight for him so far this season has been the team's big 5-2 win over the Eredivisie's FC Twente in December 2019 in the Dutch Cup. What made the win even sweeter was that they did in Twente's own stadium, De Grolsch Veste. He added that the team was able to play freely in that game compared with what other lower league teams would have done against a top-tier opponent.
It has without a doubt been a highly positive season for Mael. And as he continues to play regularly and put up good performances, there will be talk of him eventually getting a look by the U.S. national team.
With the team still trying to find their identity under head coach Gregg Berhalter, and the player pool being open for all available players, Mael does have ambitions to play at the international level. However, he is realistic as to what he needs to do to get noticed by the coaches.
"Like any American player, I definitely have the desire to reach that level. Whether it happens or not, I have no idea. All I can do is focus on my development, on my process to continuously improve and then see what happens," he said.
"Before it even comes into real consideration or before I attract attention from the coaching staff, I would have to play Eredivisie and get consistent minutes. I think that's the most direct and basic criteria for someone in my scenario. Until then, it's in the back of my mind but nothing that I obsess over. If it comes, it would be an honor but until then, I still have a few steps to make on my end."