Soccer: Paola van der Veen brings “European professionalism” to Utes

For U women’s soccer player Paola van der Veen, soccer is more than just a sport; it has helped her find a sense of home and family in a new country.

In its 20-year history, the Utah women’s soccer team has brought in some of the best talent from the state of Utah and around the country. This year, they have attracted international talent in van der Veen.

Van der Veen, better known by her family and teammates as Po, is a freshman midfielder for the Utes and is the team’s first foreign player from outside North America. Her arrival falls in line with a university-wide trend that has seen an increased number of international athletes competing for the U as the school increases its recognition abroad.

The Dutch transplant hails from Leidschendam, Netherlands, a small town outside of The Hague, and joined this year’s squad with an impressive résumé. She played in the European Championships and Euro qualifiers as a member of the Under-17 and Under-19 Dutch national teams, and made several playoff appearances with her club ADO den Haag before making the decision to come to the United States to play soccer and receive an education.

Utah was among many universities van der Veen sent film to with the hopes of sparking an interest. After watching the highlights and learning about her accolades, Utah head coach Rich Manning reached out to van der Veen’s coach to let her know the Utes were interested and invited her to tour the campus. Van der Veen took Manning up on this offer and came to visit in March.

“I had tons of schools where I could choose from,” said van der Veen. “With the team environment, coaches, school, academics and everything, I decided Utah.”

Manning said van der Veen’s high-level experience has been a welcome addition to the team and the freshman is already making an impact on the team’s performance. Her sophisticated way of play is transferring to her teammates and is helping better the team.

“She’s played at the highest level on a club in Europe for three years so she’s played with the best players and against people that played in the World Cup,” Manning said. “She’s played in huge games and grown up in a culture where soccer is the show, so her knowledge of the game is just deep.”

One example of the kind of elite play van der Veen brings to the team came in the Utes’ home opener against Houston. In the 28th minute, van der Veen fired a shot that went wide of the net and ricocheted off the crossbar. She hurried back to get on defense and came up with the ball mere moments after her failed shot attempt. After a quick scan of the field, van der Veen launched a beautifully precise thru-ball that connected with teammate Taylor Slattery who then scored.

Despite her extensive knowledge from her time in the European leagues, Manning said that she still had to face a learning curve when it came to the way that Americans play.

“I’ve seen some areas where she had to adjust. She even said after the first weekend at Marquette and DePaul that the game is just so much different,” Manning said. “It’s faster, it’s more physical. But she has a wealth of experience that she brings to the field and our team.”

Van der Veen has had to make adjustments off the field, too, and she has faced many difficulties in her transition to a new school and a new country. Although the language barrier has not been an immense challenge, it has been rough for van der Veen living so far away from her friends and family.

“I think [the biggest challenge is] being alone, being away from your family. It’s kind of hard. I speak to them every day so it has made it a little bit easier, but still it’s still difficult,” van der Veen said. “My brother and my sister, I will not see them until Christmas, so I haven’t seen them for six months.”

Van der Veen says her fellow Utes have stepped in and become her new family, however, embracing her wholeheartedly and making her move to the U.S. an enjoyable experience.

“They definitely [helped with the transition]. I’ve been adopted kind of by Katie [Rogers]’s parents and the team has taken me everywhere,” van der Veen said. “If I’m sad or if I miss something they just said ‘Call me and we’ll go [do] something.’ I’ve been on a hike with the team and all that kind of stuff. They’ve been pretty helpful. It makes it a lot easier to be here because they’re so fun.”

Manning said some of Po’s greatest attributes have been her ability to contribute to the team chemistry and her capability to bond with her teammates.

“She came out in the summer and right away just fit right in,” Manning said. “She a hard worker, she loves soccer, she likes people, she has a great sense of humor, she’s very well balanced, she has a lot of interests and she fits right in.”

In a journey that has taken her from the Dutch lowlands to the Wasatch Mountains, van der Veen has brought a touch of European professionalism to a Utah team on the rise, and gained a new family in the process.

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