The United States has produced some excellent goalkeepers that have gone on to stellar careers for club and country. Brian Schwake hopes to be among that group as he has been making a name for himself in Scotland.
While much of the conversation has been about up and coming goalkeepers like Gabriel Slonina as he has begun to make inroads at Chelsea, his fellow Illinois native has been doing the same at Scottish Championship side Greenock Morton during his season-long loan from Livingston.
It’s been three years since Schwake made the move to Scotland following a season playing college soccer at DePaul University, but he explained to Yanks Abroad how the move to came to fruition.
“My ambition as a kid had always been to try and play professionally in Europe,” he said “I had previously had a few trials in different places and when I had the chance to go on trial at Livingston I was very excited to give it a go. When they offered me a contract I knew that it could potentially be my only chance to go overseas and I was still relatively young so I took the chance and am happy that it has worked out so far.”
Making the move from the village of Mount Prospect to West Lothian is certainly a huge change in scenery. However, the former Sockers FC youth player had some help along the way to make his adjustment going smoothly.
“The first few months in Scotland were quite frantic I’d say, I was living basically on my own in a new country so getting settled in took a bit of time,” Schwake said. “Luckily, I was living with a few other boys that played for Livingston and they really helped me to adjust. Covid also hit just after I signed so I went home for a while and came back over for the new season towards the end of the summer. I would say it was a big difference between professional and college environments, but one I felt I was ready for.”
If adjusting to his new surroundings was one thing, making the transition from a collegiate soccer player to a professional was an entirely different experience for the 6-2 netminder.
“When you aren’t playing professionally you don’t realize how important three points are to everyone,” he stressed. “Players have families to provide for, so losing a game or getting relegated can have very big effects on a club. So being in an environment like that has allowed me to realize how intense the professional game is.”
With chances of playing at Livingston slim to none after signing a contract, the now 21-year-old was sent out on loan for the first time. It would be at Linlithgow Rose, a team playing in the sixth tier of the Scottish system, where he would spend the 2020-2021 season to get some games under his belt.
Then in the 2021-2022 season, Schwake would get his first taste of league soccer when Livingston sent him on loan to FC Edinburgh (then known as Edinburgh City) in League Two.
This was the moment that he had been waiting for since he made the move over from the U.S. and he wanted to relish every minute he stepped foot between the posts.
“When I went on loan to Edinburgh City it was my first time playing every week in the SPFL,” Schwake said. “The experience was vital to me. I got to play every week and get a full season of professional games in at 20 years old.”
“Especially as a goalkeeper you want to play as many games as you can early on so you can get your base of experience and then build off of that, so going to Edinburgh City allowed me to massively improve my game.”
It turned out to be a breakout season for the goalkeeper as he appeared in 34 games for the Citizens, making 125 saves and being named to the Team of the Week on two occasions. He also claimed the honor of being named to the League Two team of the season.
As great as the individual accolades were, he would help the team based in the Scottish capital to something greater — promotion to League One. His performance over two legs in the promotion playoffs helped them beat Annan Athletic 3-2 on aggregate as they moved up to the third tier for the first time in their history.
“Definitely the highlight so far,” Schwake said. “Getting promoted was something very special and the way we did it through the playoffs was definitely the hard way. The second half of the final game was something pretty incredible and when we eventually got promoted it was a great feeling.”
Now, with one successful season under his belt, he has a chance to make it back-to-back promotions, this time with Greenock Morton as they look to lock down a playoff spot for a move up to the Premiership. It’s a challenge that has not escaped Schwake’s attention as the team has been in the fight for promotion for much of the campaign. Currently, they lie in sixth place in the standings with a chance of overtaking either Inverness CT, Ayr United, or Partick Thistle.
With the final round of games being played this weekend, it’s a toss-up as to how the results will pan out. However, Schwake believes there is only one thing Greenock can do to secure a playoff spot — win.
“Being in this position this late in the season definitely gives us a chance to make playoffs,” he said. “I think the most important thing is that we win our remaining game and then that is hopefully enough to get us in.”
The coaching staff at Livingston must be happy with the progress their American goalkeeper has made during his loan stints. When this season comes to an end, there will be a lot of questions asked about his status for next season. While a chance to challenge as the number one would be enticing, Schwake is philosophical when pondering about his future at the club.
“I think the most important thing for a young goalkeeper is to keep playing games every week,” he said. “If I were able to do that at Livingston then that would be the best-case scenario, but there’s a lot of competition in the Premiership clubs so I would also be open to going out on loan again if it allowed me to continue playing week in and week out.”
Schwake’s performances on the field may be catching the attention of other teams in Scotland and the rest of Europe, but could this lead to a step toward the international stage? While he is not yet at the level of Matt Turner, Zack Steffen, or Ethan Horvath, who have battled it out to be number one for the U.S. men’s national team, there is still an opportunity to earn a spot in the Olympic team.
With the Under-23 men’s national team making their return to the Olympic soccer tournament in Paris next year, he would certainly jump at the chance of representing his country if U.S. Soccer came calling.
“Of course, that would be amazing,” Schwake said. “I haven’t been called at any age group, so if I got that opportunity I would be over the moon. But the most important thing for me is to keep playing games and get experience. As long as I can continue to do that, things should take care of themself.”