With an overseas career that has so far taken him from an eastern corner of Europe to the coast of the Red Sea, Eric McWoods is racking up miles as well as unique living and playing experiences.
When I first met Eric McWoods, it was in the Estonian village of Viljandi, which is located pretty much in the middle of nowhere in the Baltic nation. We were with friends and decided to catch a soccer game where the local team was hosting JK Trans Narva. On the field, I could hear an American voice calling out from the visiting team, and that happened to be Eric. This was in the spring of 2019, during his first professional season in Europe.
Since that successful season where he helped the team lift the Estonian Cup, as well as scoring a hat trick in one game and being named Player of the Month, his journey has continued in other parts of the world.
“Yes, I have been on four different teams in four different countries,” the St. Louis native told Yanks Abroad recently. “Each country has its own challenges and highlights. Each team has new teammates and coaches to get to know and learn. And of course there are the language challenges.”
He looks back on his Estonian adventure with fondness, perhaps even pride.
“Obviously, the team that I had the most success with was in Estonia, my first professional team. I learned a lot about playing in another country in the Premier League and it was a huge learning curve, but I finished as the third highest scorer in that league.”
With that success, it was time to move on and find a new challenge and depart from the club situated at the far eastern corner of the country. He found himself a new destination more than 1000 miles to the southeast, in the country of Hungary, but before he could settle in, the pandemic struck.
“I had the opportunity to go home for a short break and then left the United States, right before COVID hit. My Hungarian team (Zalaegerszegi TE in the top division) was a good team, but we went through a coaching change in the middle (of the season).”
The pandemic forced the league to shut down for eight weeks where the team was not able to meet up, so the players were forced to live and attempt to remain fit on their own for that time, awaiting an eventual restart to the season.
“We could not train for a while but eventually I started to train with a few team mates before we were called back.”
The season obviously did not go according to expecations; McWoods played just six times in the team’s final 17 games of the season, scoring once and generally being unable to show what he was capable of producing. Thus, Eric had a decision to make.
“After we played the remaining games, I knew that I needed to find a new team to continue my soccer career, or return to the United States.”
“Since COVID was in full swing with restrictions about leaving the country, quarantining and returning back into Europe, I decided to stay and continue my weekly COVID testing.”
The forward’s agent found him a new team on the warm Mediterranean island of Malta, where he decided that he would play until at least until the end of the season. The team he joined was Balzan FC in the Maltese Premier League.
However, after the new setting did not light the explosive potential seen in his earlier stop in Estonia, it became clear that he would have to continue his journey elsewhere.
“Initially, it appeared it would be a good fit, however it was not the best fit for my style of play and I ended my contract amicably with the coaches and management.”
With his never say die attitude and determination to continue his life as a professional soccer player, another opportunity surfaced, in an unexpected and largely unexplored landing spot for American players.
“I was contacted by an agent to come to Jordan. At that time, I had a college teammate that was playing in the Jordanian Premier league and so got some insight on playing in the Middle East, in the country of Jordan specifically. We worked out the arrangements and I arrived in Jordan.”
New teams and new adventures present new obstacles to overcome.
“Not speaking the Arabic language became another challenge,” he explained. “Fortunately, there were a few players and some people in management who spoke English.”
“There were also additional challenges with living arrangements and finances that became an issue, as well as the fact that due to COVID we had no fans in the stands, though recently, they have been allowed to return.”
“Although I get along very well with the players and coaches, there are some culture differences,” he continues. “The entire team is Muslim and I am not, so I have come to appreciate their customs.”
His new team, Shabab Al-Aqaba, located in south of the country on the Red Sea, has no realistic chances of challenging for the Jordanian Pro League title this season, but will instead focus on avoiding relegation. This presents a big challenge for McWoods and his team; a challenge that they are up for.
The former Xavier University striker is to be commended, in my humble opinion, for continuing chasing the dream where many would have hung up their cleats by now. The journey can be a long one but Yanks Abroad is happy to follow him and other young Americans making their way around the globe as professional soccer players.