Just 12 games into his collegiate career, University of Rhode Island goalkeeper Nils Leifhelm has taken advantage of his opportunity as starter to contribute to his team’s best start since 2008.
Although he only recently moved to America and is still perfecting his English, the German-born freshman has adjusted well to his new surroundings after already tallying five shutouts and six wins on the season. Before Leifhelm, the last time a Rhode Island goalkeeper finished a season with six wins was when Peyton Warwick matched the total in 2011.
Leifhelm chose to play for the Rhode Island after three years in the German Regionalliga, the fourth level in the German football league’s pyramid system. He said the move has come with its challenges, mainly due to the strength of American soccer players and the game itself. After he allowed five goals in his second game to Providence, Leifhelm has only surrendered three in his last 10 appearances.
Rhode Island head coach Gareth Elliott said he first heard about Leifhelm’s play from a friend working in Germany who said he had to check out the play of a “stellar goalkeeper.” Elliott made a Skype call to Leifhelm who liked the idea of playing in the United States and being a part of the program URI has to offer.
“He’s a staple in the back for us,” Elliott said. “He just gives us that calming influence in the back, he’s always looking for the ball, he can deal with it under pressure, he’s good in the air, his communication is very good. You know, he’s really just done a great job for us this year.”
Leifhelm’s lock down goal tending has played a key role in the Rams’ seven-game unbeaten streak, an accomplishment that has not been achieved by Rhode Island soccer since 2005. His record of 5-0-2 is also the longest for a URI keeper since 2006.
“Of course it’s a great feeling for me, but the team is always the first priority,” Leifhelm said. “The best goalkeeper can’t achieve anything without a good defense or a good team. I want to share all of my awards with the whole team, especially with the defense because they do a great job too.”
With just six games remaining in the regular season, all of which are against Atlantic 10 opponents, Leifhelm plans to put on some extra weight and work on his fitness once the season ends. Elliott said he is confident that his goalkeeper will be able to continue to perform at a high level in the net and that he expects his leadership role to increase as he gains more experience.
“He’s just a very composed goalkeeper,” Elliott said. “Nothing flusters him. You find a lot of goalkeepers can be a little hotheaded or a little short tempered, but he is just so consistent and so positive. It’s a joy to have him on the team.”