German keeper Paul Kruse has been a find for Creighton men's soccer

Creighton keeper Paul Kruse, left, has posted six shutouts as a freshman. CU has posted the sixth-lowest goals-against average in the nation (.523).

American soccer is still quite foreign to Paul Kruse.

And Creighton’s goalkeeper can’t help but notice the differences between how the game’s played here and in his home country of Germany.

“It’s more physical, way more physical,” Kruse said. “It’s not as technical as in Europe. In Europe, you get your basic education at the age of 10. As soon as you get to the academy, you start with the technical behavior during the game.

“I think that’s kind of a little bit missing here in America.”

Americans, Kruse has observed, tend to favor a kick-and-rush style of play that prioritizes speed, athleticism and physicality over technical ability.

That’s why he’s found a kindred spirit in Creighton coach and fellow German Elmar Bolowich — and a perfect fit with the Bluejays.

“I like it here at Creighton because we are one of the teams that tries to control the game,” Kruse said. “Not playing this kick-and-rush, but building up from the back.”

It’s made the 20-year-old freshman feel right at home.

Kruse has started every match in goal this season for No. 8 Creighton (9-3-1, 5-0-0 Big East), racking up 30 saves and allowing only seven goals. He’s also notched six clean sheets and twice been named Big East goalkeeper of the week.

“Paul’s come in with a high level of maturity, as well as understanding of the game, so he’s able to, technically and tactically, do things at an extremely high level, and a higher level than most freshmen that have come in,” Creighton goalkeeper coach Michael Gabb said. “He’s giving our back line a great deal of confidence.”

With his advanced skill set and experience between the pipes, CU has posted the sixth-lowest goals-against average in the nation (.523). Kruse and the Jays’ defense will look to stay stingy on Saturday when they host Big East foe Providence (7-5-1, 4-1-0) at 7 p.m.

Long and slender, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Kruse has what Gabb calls the “prototypical professional build” to go with his high soccer IQ. Kruse hopes it will eventually add up to a career in the pros somewhere.

“If I can reach the next level, I want to get there,” he said. “That’s why I came here. That’s what I tried to do in Germany, and that’s the goal here, of course, too.”

Before he was a Bluejay, Kruse was a highly regarded prospect in TSG 1899 Hoffenheim’s youth academy.

The top-tier professional German team recruited Kruse while he was playing for his hometown club in Heilbronn, Germany, at age 11. From there, he rose from the under-12 team all the way to Hoffenheim’s senior reserve squad in 2016.

He also fell into the German national team’s roster pool along the way, making his first appearance for the under-16 team at Belgium in 2013.

A series of knee injuries, however, kept him from making more.

“If you’re out for a long time of the national pool and have a big injury, it’s difficult to get back,” Kruse said.

For all his critiques of American soccer, Kruse recognizes that the German academy system has drawbacks, too. He’s learned firsthand how difficult it is to play at that level and study at the same time.

That’s what prompted him to look into college sports in America and get into contact with Bolowich. Once he saw what Creighton had to offer, it was too much to pass up.

“I just decided to come here, because I still have the opportunity to get to another level with my sport after four years,” Kruse said, “and even if not, I have a nice education.”

He arrived in Omaha in January, spending his first few months adjusting to a new culture and life as a student-athlete. His roommate, senior defender Akeem Ward, said Kruse’s accent was “a little bit of a language barrier” at first. But on the pitch, he’s proven to be a strong communicator who can keep the defense organized.

“Instantly when he came in, I saw he had talent,” Ward said. “He’s a leader from the back, for sure, and we need that.”

Kruse likes America and wouldn’t mind sticking around for a shot at the MLS. Gabb says that if he keeps improving, he’ll have that choice.

He’ll be ready if and when that time comes, but for now, Kruse is focused on the present.

“I don’t think right now about the MLS,” he said. “All I think about is right now — the day-to-day, improving in practice, improving during the games and growing as a team.”

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