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Way south of the border

Defender Schulte taking a different path to his dream

Posted: Monday May 8, 2006 1:13PM; Updated: Monday May 8, 2006 4:37PM
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Ohio native and former Columbus Crew defender Mark Schulte is trying his luck in Uruguay with Montevideo's Wanderers.
Ohio native and former Columbus Crew defender Mark Schulte is trying his luck in Uruguay with Montevideo's Wanderers.
Gregory Sica
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If you're a fan of U.S. soccer, you were undoubtedly focused on head coach Bruce Arena last week as he named his 23-man roster for this summer's World Cup. But 6,000 miles away, another American is very quietly making headlines of a different kind.

Mark Schulte, a former defender for the Columbus Crew, has broken new ground, becoming the first American to play professionally in Uruguay (and one of the few Americans ever to play in South America) after signing with the first-division club Montevideo Wanderers a few months ago.

Since most young American soccer players dream of one day playing in Europe, heading south across the equator seems like a curious path to choose. Predictably, the circumstances of how Schulte arrived in Uruguay are unusual. After falling out of favor in Columbus, he was lured to Wanderers by a friend of his agent's who is a fanatical supporter of the club. Schulte signed within days with the approval of Daniel Carreño, the club's high-profile manager who lifted the Intercontinental Cup as a player with the Uruguayan giants Nacional in 1988.

Schulte was out of action for much of this season's Uruguayan Clausura championship because he was nursing a chipped bone in his ankle. But thanks to an impressive debut in Wanderers' first win of the season, a 2-0 victory over Cerro on April 9, he has landed himself a permanent position in the center of the club's defense.

Wanderers hasn't been victorious in its subsequent five matches and is currently languishing near the bottom of the league, but Schulte is optimistic about the club's potential. The well-traveled defender -- whose career has taken him to Iceland, England and Belgium -- seems to have had no problem integrating with his new teammates and with the Uruguayan style of play.

The Brecksville, Ohio, native isn't yet fluent in Spanish, but he's enthusiastic about a new adventure that goes beyond the soccer field.

"I'm just excited to come down here," he said on a recent chilly Montevideo morning. "I've always wanted to check out this continent, never been here before, and always wanted to speak Spanish."

Schulte sat down with SI.com to discuss his career and the differences between Uruguay and the U.S., both on and off the field.

SI.com: How is Uruguayan soccer different from American soccer?

Schulte: It's hard to compare. I would say Americans focus on different things. A lot of the guys are bigger, stronger and faster than the guys here. But the guys here have a better soccer head, so they're better soccer brains.

SI.com: How about the competition?

Schulte: Again, it's different. Whereas there is a lot of running in the States, here I've got to be aware of guys who sneak behind my back -- there are a lot of short passes and not so much of the driven ball and switching of the field.