Given the rabid popularity of soccer in Sweden, Nixa coach Evan Palmer was optimistic before meeting Andreas Luiga that he would be a player to watch out for.
Once Luiga joined the Eagles this summer as a foreign-exchange student from Sweden, Palmer's hopes were confirmed. Luiga made an immediate and favorable impression.
“You can tell he’s been well-coached, that's for sure,” Palmer said. “His instincts are good and his technical abilities are very high.”
After Luiga gained his eligibility by meeting the Missouri State High Schools Activities Association’s mandate of 14 pre-season practices, he’s been busy fulfilling expectations.
Luiga has four goals in five games entering Nixa’s trip to Waynesville tonight. The senior forward has helped the Eagles (5-4) climb above the .500 mark for the first time this season.
Luiga’s first five weeks in America have been everything he could have hoped for and then some.
“It was a little rough at the beginning fitting in, being new and having players I didn’t know,” Luiga said. “When you don’t know the guys you’re playing with, it’s hard. But they play similar to what I’m used to. They’ve been a lot of fun and helped me a lot. I’ve made a lot of friends through the soccer team.”
Likewise, Palmer and the players have taken a quick liking to Luiga.
“We brought him in and made him feel like he belongs,” midfielder Hunter Daniels said. “I like having him out on the field. He knows how to read the game. He’s very good working off the ball as well as with the ball.”
“He fits in well,” Palmer added. “He’s a good guy to be around, a very genuine nice guy.”
Luiga has followed the lead of his two older brothers, Henrik and Nicholas, by being a foreign-exchange student. They both attended a year of high school in Minnesota.
“Since my brothers were in the USA, I was designated to come here and I wanted to come here, as well” Luiga said. “I love it here. It was pretty much random where I ended up. (The International Youth Exchange Program) puts you with a family that matches your personality. The family they matched me up with happened to live here in Nixa.”
Luiga and Daniels were both featured in Nixa’s ‘Senior Spotlight’ during the Eagles’ 5-0 win over Webb City earlier this week. Luiga made sure to thank his parents, Christian and Ritacca, for the impact they’ve had on him.
“They’re the biggest part of who I have become,” Luiga said. “They’ve supported me all the way. My dad was my soccer coach for a little while and my parents have showed up to most of my games. They’ve always been big supporters of my soccer career.”
Soccer is without question the national sport in Sweden. It’s documented that more than 500,000 youth and adults play the sport. With the country’s population being 9 million, that breaks down to 18 percent of Swedes being active in soccer.
In America, that figure is 13.5 percent.
The Swedish National Team has one runner-up finish and three third-place finishes in the FIFA World Cup. The U.S. hasn’t had a finish better than third since 1930 and didn’t qualify for the World Cup this year.
Soccer may not be the national sport of the U.S., but Luiga is happy to report he’s basically felt at home while practicing and playing with his Nixa teammates.
“I thought there would be a big difference,” Luiga said of soccer in Sweden and the U.S. “I’m good at adjusting to different types of practices and play. But the soccer is pretty similar. I feel like I’m fitting in great.”