MATHEW WAGNER - Monday, May 21, 2012
When Patrick Hopkins and Steffen Vroom decided to pursue professional careers in 2010, they did not imagine they would still be teammates two years later.
The former DePaul Blue Demons were concerned only about finding the right opportunities for themselves after college.
"When we both made our decisions to pursue a professional career, you're pretty much just looking out for yourself," Hopkins said. "You're just trying to find whatever the best opportunity for you as a player is."
As it turns out, the best opportunities for both seemed to be on the same teams.
After playing together for four years at DePaul, both Vroom and Hopkins played the 2011 season in Australia for the Brisbane Wolves of the Brisbane Premier League. The two of them played a vital role on the Wolves' title-winning squad.
Following that successful season, both players earned a trial and a contract with Ljungskile of the Swedish Superettan during winter 2012.
"It's been good for us as players individually, and at the same time, it's been good to always have a good friend there to hang out with and to go through the same trials with," Hopkins said.
Because of the six-year time frame as teammates, Vroom and Hopkins have built chemistry and a friendship that allows them to be open with one another.
Whether it is for motivation or to pick up the other, it helps to have a familiar face, especially somebody who knows your style of play, Vroom said.
"I think we've grown accustomed to what our limits are," he said. "Having known each other for a long time, we're comfortable saying the thing that you might be afraid might piss somebody else off."
One thing they can be open about is areas of improvement.
While both agree that the other has a great work ethic, the two aren't afraid to point out their flaws on the soccer field.
In college, Vroom transitioned from right back to forward, a transition that paid dividends. Vroom won DePaul University's MVP Award during his senior season in 2009.
Vroom said that making runs behind the defense was an easy part of a forward's game for Vroom to pick up.
But his hold up play has taken some time to develop and can still continue to grow, Hopkins said.
"(Vroom's) been working very hard on getting better and stronger with his back to goal and being able to hold off big center defenders," Hopkins said. "I think that's something he has worked on a lot, and he's gotten a lot better and something that he can still put more work in."
For this season at Ljungskile, Hopkins has moved from right center back to left center back. According to Vroom, this switch has changed Hopkins' style of play a bit and has shown that he must become stronger with his weaker foot.
"It's changed his style of play a lot," Vroom said. "He used to be able to hit long balls consecutively with his right foot. At DePaul, we played a lot of over the top, pretty direct- That was one of his best attributes.
"Shifting to the left, he's got to work on being able to hit that long ball left-footed consistently, which you see in the top levels all the time."
Along with the serious angle, the guys can also have a bit of fun.
In the 2011 season, both Vroom and Hopkins sat within the top four goal scorers of the Brisbane Premier League. Vroom led the league with 27 goals, including the playoffs, while Hopkins recorded 17 goals.
Hopkins, a defender, poked a little fun at Vroom, a striker, midway through the season when Vroom had 14 goals to his 10.
"At the end of the day, there was no way I was ever going to beat him in goals just because it's not really my job, but we had fun with it," Hopkins said. "I was always poking fun at him telling him he's got to look over his shoulder and be careful he's putting his chances away. Otherwise, I was going to pass him."
The jump from the Brisbane Premier League to the Swedish second division has not fazed either player, with each seeing regular minutes so far.
Hopkins has started every match, although that could be in doubt when he left this weekend's game after 40 minutes with an apparent injury. Meanwhile, Vroom has been unable to find the back of the net but has featured in every match so far, including five starts.
It was not too surprising for the former Blue Demons.
"We came here with an open mind," Vroom said. "Once we decided to pursue a professional career, we knew that we'd have some makeup work to catch up to countries like Sweden, where they're pursuing professional careers at a lot younger age.
"We're both very hungry, and we're not going to belittle ourselves coming in here."
Now, Vroom and Hopkins are looking to improve the team's position in the standings.
After two straight losses to start the season, Ljungskile has a four-game unbeaten streak and now sits at ninth in the Superettan. Despite the slow start, Hopkins believes the team can make huge strides toward of the end of this season and going into next season.
"I think that it's going to be tough for us to really challenge for a top three or four spot in the league this year," Hopkins said. "By the end of this season, once we have a full year together as a group, we'll build some momentum going into the next year when we should be much, much better.
"Right now, we're one of those team where we could probably beat any team in the league on any given night- but at the same time, we could get beat by any team in the league as well- I think that by the end of the year, when we really start clicking, I really expect this team to be a very difficult team to play against and to get points from."