Ryan Coulter is living his dream, and the former East Tennessee State goalkeeper hopes this is just the beginning.
Coulter is playing professional soccer in his home country of Ireland for Athlone Town, a team in the League of Ireland’s Premier Division. It’s the oldest team in the league, having been established in 1887.
“Getting the opportunity to begin a professional career is one I’ve always dreamed about,” Coulter said Tuesday. “The fact it’s in the League of Ireland is fantastic for me. Having watched the league here growing up, it’s a great place for me to start and to get my feet wet at this level and hopefully be able to springboard to higher levels in the seasons to come. But ultimately, to be a part of a team, lining out every week to play games is fantastic for me.”
Coulter closed out a record-setting collegiate career by helping ETSU make the NCAA tournament last spring. He finished with a couple of Atlantic Sun Conference records: most shutouts in a career (25) and a season (10).
He then embarked on trying to start his professional career. Coulter worked out with English professional teams Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich Town and Carlisle United, only to find out he was not cleared to play in trial games. After playing for the IMG Academy in Florida, his international paperwork had not gone through in time, delaying the start of his pro career.
He had done well in his trials. The only thing he was lacking was professional experience and he wasn’t going to get any until his international clearance was approved.
“After five months out of the game, I was in a low place,” Coulter said. “It was hard training away, working myself into the ground, knowing that there were no games to play and no opportunities my way. This is what I want though, so I remained positive.”
The paperwork finally made it through in July and an opportunity opened up in Ireland. He snatched it like a free kick curling toward the goal.
“Once the window opened in the Irish League, I jumped at the opportunity to play games, to play professionally and to start my career at this level and ultimately get some much needed experience,” he said.
Coulter has played seven games for Athlone Town, a struggling club in last place in Ireland’s top league. The bright side of being on a team at the bottom of the table is that the goalkeeper usually gets plenty of action.
“As a goalkeeper you want to be challenged and I’m loving it,” he said. “I have been putting in good performances. I have taken over the starting role from a very good goalkeeper and hope in the near future to lock that position down as mine.”
Along the way, Coulter got a taste of the English Premier League. His club met Queens Park Rangers in a friendly.
“Playing against QPR was amazing,” he said. “I found it funny because only a season ago I was lining out for ETSU against the likes of Wake Forest, UAB, Coastal Carolina and other well regarded teams. I’m always nervous before a game and aware of key players. Playing against QPR was surreal. They are all players I know inside out from watching them on TV over the years. The amount of talent and experience in their team is breathtaking.”
Athlone Town lost 2-0 to QPR, but Coulter made several saves, including stopping a shot by controversial midfielder Joey Barton.
“I loved every minute of the game and played with a smile,” he said. “It’s a game to remember for sure, one to tell the grand kids about in years to come. I was delighted to have that chance to play, but to cap it off, I played very well and had a few decent saves, so I’ll always look on it with fond memories.”
The Irish League plays a summer schedule, and will be finished in November. When the current season ends, Coulter will begin thinking about his future.
“I’m getting experience at this level,” he said. “I’ll see what options come my way on the tail end of the season here and hopefully I’ll have some decisions to make. Please God, I’ll get my chance at a move to the UK. Time will tell. I’ll just keep working hard and learning and the rest will take care of itself.”
Coulter began his collegiate career at the University of San Diego, where he didn’t enjoy the experience and almost quit the game. He transferred to ETSU, and his career took off under former Bucs coach Scott Calabrese, a former professional player himself.
“I moved and believed in the staff and team at ETSU and they showed me the faith and backing that I needed,” Coulter said. “I gained in stature as a goalkeeper and improved immensely from the start to the end of my time as a Buccaneer. I grew as a keeper in every way. I was physically better off by the end of my time, and had improved in so many ways within my own game.
“Johnson City has been special to me and a place I will always return to visit,” he said. “ It was the greatest experience of my life. From day one, I fell in love with the people, the place, the team and the coaching staff. I was also lucky to meet my girlfriend there, a local girl from Morristown. So it’s safe to say, I will definitely be back to Johnson City and ETSU in the near future to catch up and to cheer on the Bucs.”comments powered by Disqus