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Four years after passing on pro deal in Germany, Leo Stolz ready to begin pro career with Red Bulls

Leo Stolz RBNY

Photo courtesy of Molly Brady/New York Red Bulls



CHAMPIONSGATE, Fla. — Leo Stolz was a teenage boy, living in his native Germany, when the opportunity of a lifetime forced him to make a very difficult decision.

His local club, 1860 Munich, offered him a professional contract in 2011 after seeing him work his way up its academy system. Stolz had always wanted to play pro soccer, especially after becoming hypnotized by Zinedine Zidane’s worldly skills at the 1998 World Cup, but also yearned to experience the college life in Southern California that his father so often gushed about.

Coming from a family that focused on academics more so than athletics, Stolz made the kind of decision very few German teenage soccer players, or any soccer player, would make. He passed on the 1860 Munich offer and embarked on his American journey.

“It was kind of tough for me to make a decision back then and I read an article about the system in the United States that I could (play soccer and study), plus my dad studied in UC San Diego,” Stolz recently told SBI. “He didn’t play sports, but he was all about his time living in Southern California.”

Passing up a pro contract to go to college in a foreign country might sound like a crazy decision, but Stolz has made it pay off. Not only did he accomplish a goal of his by studying political science at UCLA, but is now preparing to begin his professional career as a midfielder for the New York Red Bulls following a stellar four-year collegiate career.

The No. 18 pick in the 2015 MLS Draft, Stolz has already begun to impress his new team, showing the qualities that made him one of the highest-rated NCAA players in the country over the past two seasons.

“He’s been looking good,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch told SBI. “We’re kind of trying to get everybody thinking faster, playing faster, so for him that’s a little bit of an adjustment, especially because when he was in college they used him as a No. 10 and he kind of found the game as it went.

“But we’re asking him to cover more ground, we’re asking him to close things down, we’re asking him to play faster, think faster and he’s responded really well. You can tell he’s psyched to be here. His energy every day has been great, and you see the moments of individual brilliance where he can just see a pass and put a play together that a lot of guys can’t. He’s going to be good.”

There has admittedly been an initial learning curve for the 5-foot-11 Stolz, who is adjusting to the speed of play and more demanding defensive responsibilities. He has no qualms about any of that, though, as he is finally ready to step away from the classroom and onto the field on a full-time basis.

“I’m new to professional soccer now,” said Stolz, who turns 24 on Feb. 15. “It’s now about putting together my first step in the door and seeing how well I do at the next level.”

Stolz’s path to the Red Bulls is a far different one than your typical rookie takes to MLS. After making the decision to go to college in the United States, Stolz sought out a group of advisors in Germany who specialize in helping players find American colleges to play for.

“They create a profile, they turn in all your academic and athletic information and U.S. coaches have access to that and can make an offer,” Stolz said of the process that eventually helped him land at George Mason University.

After spending the 2011 season as a starter for George Mason, the affable central midfielder transferred to UCLA prior to the start of the 2012 campaign, partially because his father had suggested that Stolz experience the Southern California lifestyle. Stolz fell in love with Los Angeles quickly and also wasted no time in settling in with the Bruins, becoming an immediate starter and impact player.

He went on to accumulate 20 goals and 22 assists in his three seasons at UCLA, capping his college career with a nine-goal, six-assist senior season that earned him the prestigious Hermann Award.

“It was amazing, the entire three-and-a-half years with teammates and the entire environment, living in Los Angeles, academics. I liked it a lot,” said Stolz. “I could talk all single day about LA. Big campus. I would love to go back there, and I would if I could, I would do it all over again.”

After completing his college tenure this past winter, Stolz had another tough soccer-related decision to make: sign with an MLS club or pursue overseas opportunities.

Undecided, he weighed both options carefully before reports surfaced saying that he would only play in MLS if he were drafted by the New York Red Bulls or LA Galaxy. With collegiate players not usually having the type of power to dictate where they land, some fans and observers believed Stolz was unfairly manipulating the system in his favor.

Stolz, however, maintains that he was open to anything. He did prefer New York or Los Angeles because of a recommendation from a coach he trusted, but that he would not necessarily have been opposed to playing for other MLS clubs if they had taken him in the draft.

“I just looked at my options and there was a back and forth of making a decision of going back to Europe and staying in MLS,” said Stolz. “I waited for the draft and I went through the entire process, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to. I had trials set up with preseason camps, but after I found out that I got drafted by New York Red Bulls, I thought it was a great city and a great team and a great coach.

“They were all factors that I considered. I looked at the entire package and I thought I would develop a lot better than at the second-division team in Germany. That’s why I decided to do it.”

Five years after that initial major decision, Stolz has once again chosen an American adventure over a chance to ply his trade closer to home. Given how well that initial decision went, you can’t really blame him for that.


  1. If this kid was serious about being a professional he wouldn’t have wasted four key developmental years playing at a super low level. That’s cool that he got to hang out in LA or whatever but it sure didn’t maximize his ability as a player. Waste of time and talent.

    • And so , , , what should MLS or RBNY do? Assume he’s a dilettante and ban him from the league? Or accept him for what he is — a talented player who chose a sub-optimal path but might have something to offer?

    • Or maybe it wasn’t a waste at all. Maybe he got what he wanted from his college age years: an education, a solid future whether he can run or not, an experience, and a chance to live in a beautiful place.

      I know most of us on this site are very competitive types, but for many people in this world there is more to life than money, championships, and fame. In my mind, they are not wrong. I am not saying I am against money, championships and fame.

    • LOL…. oh so easy to live/backseat drive another man’s life ain’t it.
      Perhaps his goals in life differ from your own…. maybe they are multi-dimensional. I’m pretty sure there is no shame in that? A life with good friends and family, personal growth, enough money to do the things we enjoy, to be good at the things we do…. wide and varied range of experience is the best we can hope for. A childhood in Germany, 3 years in SoCal, a college degree at a great university, play college sports at a top level, be drafted as a pro… live and play soccer for a living in New York. You ask me, seems the kid is off to a good start to a very rich and interesting life.

  2. But he was selected by Ali Curtis, so a substantial number of people will insist that he must be awful.

    Here’s something to start a debate (or argument): who is more intensely hated by his detractors — Klinsmann or Curtis?


    • ..AND…how do Curtis (a Garber disciple) & Jurgie (a Garber detractor) feel about each other?

      Can we have them fight in out in a ring, giving each a non-traditional weapon like a stapler or a shoe?

    • Let’s relax with the Curtis defense. Stolz basically forced his way to NY, and he was the Hermann Award winner – it’s not like Curtis was picking a diamond out of the rough here.

  3. Slow news days in RBNY land. Next week we get to look forward to seeing one our key signings, Zubar, hopefully arrive and say “..I’m excited to join an important club like the Red Bulls and expect to work hard everyday to win MLS Cup”…yeeeeeee

  4. The kid seems to have his head screwed on right. Wonder where he’ll fit in with us, though, given the glut of central midfielders we have. I expect him to see a lot of USL Pro time this year, for sure.

  5. For a full ride you need to be more than good enough. You need to be the best of the best. Most scholarships are partial.

    • Yeah, they should explain to kids that while football is handing out as many as 85 total and 25 a year full rides (or at least has that much to subdivide) — more than they need either side of the ball every year — a soccer team might have like 10 *at least a few years back that was the number) that need to be spread over some of the 30 or so people in a program. Partial at best for the rank and file.

      That and since in some parts of the country D1 soccer is sparse, you sometimes have to consider whether a small academic school at a lower level is better than a scholarship to play sub D1 ball at a mediocre institution. Some places can offer you money, but not much, and you’re at Scrub Tech if you take it. And having to put together financial aid anyway.

      I learned quickly to view soccer as something that would help you get into a school and help pay for it — perhaps also through financial aid leniency that I felt colleges finagled for athletes also — but people looking for the full ride have another thing coming. Those are saved for the program saviors.

      • In all honesty, I’m not sure why any athlete believes they deserve a full ride, particularly if their sport does not actually produce the sort of revenue that might replace the forgiven fees..

        Good at sports, good at math, good at acting, good at debate club…. everybody has a strength. For whatever reason, athletics seem to produce a bizarre sense of entitlement.

        If soccer (or track, or gymnastics, or bocce) gets you admission and a minor discount, why not just be thankful?

      • We played sports at my school even though they didn’t make money. People had to endow athletics just like everything else. Since when does college need to be run as a business? You’re buying into the whole modern philosophy of league networks and multimillion dollar tv contracts and what not. How about, this is school sports, and certain sports, particularly destructive ones, shouldn’t be so much more special in terms of attention and scholarships.

        I got far more for academics than soccer. I picked a school more for academics but was also only considering NCAA soccer schools since I wanted that aspect. But people coming up now should understand reality.

        Whether reality is fair is another story. Does football deserve 4-deep scholarships both sides of the ball when soccer isn’t even allowed a full team of scholarships? NCAA schools are generally non profit. Should they be caring what is profitable or not? Have you looked at tuition lately? Doubled since I went to school in less than 20 years.

        I wish there was more emphasis on academics, and more equity among sports. I think in the BCS era it’s gotten out of whack.

      • Don’t disagree at all. Simply making the observation that athletes have a unique mentality when it comes to aid and financial treatment. One could easily argue that in all but a handful of cases – mostly men’s football/basketball players – athletes actually consume more of a university’s resources than non-athletes (from a purely accounting standpoint, ignoring contribution to brand value, etc).

        And yet it seems so many among those who have played sports at the collegiate level seem to feel that this participation entitles them to more attractive financial aid packages (even though the university is actually subsidizing their interest in athletics). I don’t condemn this attitude…. I simply find it to be unique and counter-intuitive from a purely logical perspective.

        But you’re right– the cost of education these days makes the whole system seem like fantasy. It’s like looking at the invoice from a visit to the emergency room, where aspirin cost $200 per pill, the top-line cost of the stay is somehow $30,000, but for whatever reason the patient pays some utterly arbitrary number. It’s barely worth digging into the details. It’s chaotic, and you take whatever the system is willing to “reward” you for.

  6. Great read, Franco.

    ElMetroFan, They get a full four-year soccer scholarship that pays for school, room and board. Pretty easy if you’re good enough.

    I really hope he’s the real deal and stays healthy.

  7. Fantastic article, Franco. It seems very strange to think that someone from Europe would choose to come stateside for arguably the most formative years in terms of development of one’s skills and speed of thought. I don’t think enough is said about how difficult being a youth player can be, especially with the types of injuries we read about on a daily basis. I hope everything goes well for this young man at RBNY and that he has a long, fruitful and successful career.

    • It’s commendable. Our competitive higher education provides many opportunities for foreign students. Just don’t know how they pay for it though!

    • The story glosses it but you notice he goes to George Mason (and starts) before UCLA. So it’s not as simple as dad likes California because there was a pitstop. He obviously wanted to come here but why Mason? Way station til he could go bigger? Who knows. Would have been interesting to flesh out the contradiction. Since he made it to MLS I doubt he’s ashamed of his history so it would be interesting to know.

      If you’ve played on about any college team there are often international players. We had a few, Peruvians oddly in our case. It is actually not unusual at all. It might be somewhat unusual to have a German team looking to sign and then still come here, but hundreds of internationals come here every year to go to school and play NCAA (or NAIA or NJCAA soccer). To some schools it’s a competitive strategy to sign people.

      I’ll be interested how he turns out.


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