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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No. 25 Ty-Shon Alexander, men's basketball: He could be in store for a breakout season. The Jays are looking for someone to help fill the shoes of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. Why not Alexander? Click here to read more.
No. 24 Taryn Jakubowski, women's soccer: She’s usually the hardest-working player on the field, and her evolution as a scorer will be something to watch. The Jays will be relying on her again this season. Click here to read more.
No. 23 Naomi Hickman, volleyball: There’s a vacancy in the middle of Creighton’s alignment, and Hickman would be well suited for the role. Click here to read more.
No. 22 Jacob Epperson, men's basketball: He has quickness, agility and hops. He is still working to add strength. But the ceiling is incredibly high for the Australian. Click here to read the story.
No. 21 Olivia Elger, women's basketball: She had two 20-point games last year. She scored in double figures in eight of the final 13 games. Her 44.2 shooting percentage from 3-point range was tops on the team. Click here for more.
No. 19 Luke Haakenson: The junior midfielder was responsible for one of the most thrilling moments of the year — when he sprinted behind Tulsa’s defense, won a one-on-one battle with the goalkeeper and guided home a game-winner in overtime. Click here to read more.
No. 18 Nate Vontz: His breakout moment might have come this summer. Competing at the Indian Creek Invitational, Vontz set a course record with a 6-under 66 on one day. Click here to read more.
No. 17 Kuba Polat: The sophomore midfielder attempted nine shots last year, recording one goal and four assists. Click here to read more.
No. 16 Mitch Ragan: He produced a 1.97 ERA over his last five outings, striking out 34 in 32 innings. Click here to read more.
No. 15 Mitch Ballock: He averaged 11.6 points per game during the Jays’ final five contests — which was third-best on the team behind Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. Click here to read more.
No. 14 Kiele Miller: If Creighton is going to build off its second-place Big East finish, it’ll need Miller to carry over her successes to 2019. Click here to read more.
No. 13 Ashley Ishimura: She went 15-5 for CU — losing just once in her final 14 matches. She earned a spot on the All-Big East second team. Click here to read more.
No. 12 Isaac Collins: Collins has spent his summer showing off his skills in the Cape Cod League. He batted .308 (11th-best in the league) during the regular season, leading his team with five stolen bases and finishing second with 27 runs scored. Click here to read more.
No. 11 Ashley Cantu: Cantu scored 45 runs — her rate of 1.05 runs scored per game ranked ninth nationally. Click here to read more.
No. 10 Davion Mintz: He showed flashes of his potential toward the end of his sophomore season, averaging 9.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists his final five games. Click here to read more.
No. 9 Megan Ballenger: She serves, blocks and (occasionally) sets. Ballenger’s hitting percentage (.304) was third on the team last year. Click here to read more.
No. 8 Joel Rydstrand: He is Creighton’s top returning point scorer — that’s largely based on his ability to create chances for others. Click here to read the story.
No. 7 Brittany Witt: The reigning Big East libero of the year will patrol the back row again. Her intangible impact — she always brings high energy and effort — will help the Jays remain on the right track. Click here to read the story.
No. 6 Will Robertson: The Jays will need a slugger at the center of their lineup. Robertson fits the mold. He’s in store for a special 2019 season. Click here to read the story.
No. 5 Jaylyn Agnew: A versatile defender (able to guard multiple positions) and a skilled scorer (she shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range last season). Click here to read more.
No. 4 Martin Krampelj: He averaged 15.2 points and 10.8 rebounds, shooting 66.0 percent from the floor in his first five league games. Click here to read more.
No. 3 Audrey Faber: She had two 30-point games last season, and five of 20-plus. She was sixth in the Big East at 14.8 points per game. Click here to read more.
No. 2 Taryn Kloth: She was at her best at the end of last season, averaging 3.08 kills per set and hitting .329 during the final 10 matches. Click here to read more.
No. 1 Jaali Winters: The program’s all-time kills record is likely to be Winters’ by the end of the season. She’s already fourth in school history. Click here to read the story.