Growing up in Wittlich, western Germany, Cape Breton University's Peter Schaale had always dreamed of making it as a professional soccer player. Now, despite a contract offer from the Halifax Wanderers, the 23-year-old central defender has put his professional career on hold to focus on university and his final season with the CBU men's soccer team.
With the arrival of the Canadian Premier League and the continued success of the U-Sports national championships, soccer is going through somewhat of a boom in the north right now. Though this surge in popularity is likely to be welcomed by all fans of the beautiful game, soccer remains locked in an intense battle against a number of Canadian past-times for both attention and airtime. In Germany there is no such battle for exposure, soccer is the by far the number one sport and for Peter Schaale, it might as well have been the only sport on Earth.
"Soccer culture is massive, especially in the western part of Germany. For Canadians, you just have to imagine how big hockey is in Atlantic Canada. In my youth, I was on the street every day playing soccer with my friends. That's all we did really. We have a lot of Bundesliga clubs, a lot of high-level clubs who play in the first, second and third divisions. Everybody goes to games, everybody watches games. It's just massive."
Not only did Schaale grow up in a soccer-obsessed country, but he was also born into a soccer-obsessed family. With his father working for one of the premier Bundesliga clubs, there was little opportunity for negotiation when it came to picking a team to support.
"I was born in Wittlich in the western part of Germany but I actually grew up in Frankfurt until I was five because my Dad worked with Eintracht Frankfurt, the Bundesliga club. My Dad has been a big soccer fan since he was young. As he worked for Eintracht Frankfurt I think the first time I went to see a Bundesliga game I was maybe three months old. So I really grew up right around it, I would watch the games all the time."
Schaale's soccer centric upbringing is not unusual in a country so accustomed to success on the international stage. There was one factor that made him stand out time and time again though, his talent. The powerful centre back made his mark at a variety of clubs throughout his younger years before joining FC Viktoria Koln, an academy side who play their soccer in the U19 Bundesliga. Despite a successful 2014-15 season with Koln, Schaale soon found himself languishing in the oversaturated fifth tier of German soccer with a decision to make. Stay in Germany where opportunities would be severely limited or start anew in Canada.
"I played one year in the fifth division in Germany because I wasn't sure what I was going to do. There wasn't really a lot left for me in soccer at that point in Germany, a lot of players get stuck in the fifth division. There is no way up and the pool of players is just too big, so I played there, worked some jobs and eventually Coach Deano Morley came along with an offer."
For Schaale and his family, the decision for him to relocate was multi-faceted, this would be an opportunity for Peter to receive a quality education alongside his athletic ambitions.
"My parents have always been big on education so they wanted me to go and study. They didn't care whether it was in Germany or elsewhere, for them, it was always about the educational factor. It was definitely tough for them to see me leave but I think it was the right decision."
After completing the 4,000 mile move to Atlantic Canada, Schaale wasted no time in making his mark on the field, winning back-to-back AUS championships and a U-Sports national gold medal in his 2017 season with the team. Schaale also picked up the AUS Most Valuable Player award in 2018, a well-deserved individual accolade to supplement the team's ever-expanding trophy cabinet.
As fans of AUS soccer will already know, the regular season is limited to just three months with teams generally playing two games a week. This means for nine months of the year, the CBU men's soccer program work under a reduced off-season schedule. During these months it is imperative for players to find another focus, whether that be school or strength and conditioning. For Peter Schaale, the off-season presents itself as an opportunity to explore Cape Breton island, increase his study time and ensure peak fitness for the upcoming season.
"Out here in Cape Breton we have a lot of nice hiking trails. The Cabot trail is amazing so whenever the weather is nice I like to spend time outside. What I really enjoy in Cape Breton, in the off-season especially, is focusing on school and on yourself. I've been working on my fitness a lot, the whole team has been working hard in the off-season. I think that's why we're successful as a team because we're here together. In the Cape Breton winter, there isn't too much to do, so we take care of ourselves, manage ourselves, get better and work hard to get our degrees done."
Despite the undeniably harsher winters and almost 5,000 miles between Wittlich and Sydney, Schaale has come to recognise that the cultural differences between the two countries are decidedly minimal. The pace of life and the type of food may differ but Schaale has been most impressed by Canada's number one export, friendliness.
"In Germany, everything is really fast and people are very busy. I feel that people aren't really taking care of each other as Canadians do. Canadians are very humble and very friendly. They always take care of each other so I really enjoy that part of the culture. I feel like that's something Germany should take as an example. Apart from that, obviously the food is very different, I miss the German food but other than that I don't find that there is too much of a cultural difference."
Whilst it may lack Schnitzels and good German beer, Canada is undoubtedly Peter Schaale's second home for now. In this second home, the 2018 AUS MVP remains fully focused on his studies, fully focused on the upcoming season and fully focused on his future in professional soccer.
"I want to finish my degree. That's why I came back from Halifax, that's the whole incentive. So, I definitely want to finish my degree, but my main objective right now is to continue my career as a soccer player. I had a good season with Halifax and it could well be the case that I'm back there next season. First I have to play this season with CBU, that's all I've got in my head right now, but once I'm done with the season and done with my degree I'll see what doors will open for me."
Favourite Team: Eintracht Frankfurt
Favourite Player: Sergio Ramos
Lucky Number: 13
Currently Listening To: Khalid
Josh Lines/ CBU Athletics