In 2014 the University of Rhode Island’s men’s soccer team came back to beat George Mason in double overtime of the Atlantic 10 semi-finals. It was a moment that freshman Nils Leifhelm would never forget.
Now a senior at URI, Nils has continued an impressive career. He has started 65 games during his time here, with a goals against average of 1.08, a save percentage of .785, and 33 wins. This year alone Leifhelm has only allowed six goals in seven games, with a save percentage of .833. Of course head coach Gareth Elliot knew exactly the type of goalkeeper he was getting when he first recruited Leifhelm.
“He’s got extremely quick feet,” Elliot said. “He communicates and commands his box very well. We nicknamed him Spiderman because you could not get a ball by him.”
Nils first began playing soccer when he was 6 years old on a team with his friend and neighbor, whose dad was also the coach. However, he did not always want to be a goalie.
“I first played goalie when I was 10 years old,” Leifhelm said. “One game I went to pass to the goalie and I accidently broke his fingers. So, the coach put me in goal and turns out I was good at it. Then once the original goalie came back, our coach decided he wanted me to stay in goal. I’ve been playing it ever since.”
To say Leifhelm is a good goalkeeper is a bit of an understatement. Leifhelm joined FC Schalkes Academy team at 16, and would go on to win the U19 West German Championship and the U19 German national championship in 2012.
Eventually it was time for the talented goalkeeper to take his talents overseas, where coach Elliot heard of the goalie through a German company that sends soccer players across the pond to play in college.
“I knew he wouldn’t be on the market long,” Elliot said. “I talked to him and luckily I was able to get him to commit. He is a very mature, smart guy who always thinks about his decisions. If he was playing in a showcase with 50 or 60 American programs, he probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
It was this maturity that led to Leifhelm being made co-captain for the past three years.
“As a goalkeeper you have to be very demanding, always leading and communicating from the back,” said Leifhelm. “So it was a pretty easy transition to being a captain, even as a sophomore.”
Nils Leifhelm was born in Münster, Germany on Jan. 24, 1994 to Karlheinz and Ute Leifhelm. He has two younger brothers, Mathis and Finn. He is currently going for a degree in finance. After graduation, Leifhelm wants to go on to play professional soccer, and expects to have many more moments like that game against George Mason when he was a freshmen.