The West Virginia men’s soccer team has a broad international roster. Of the 28 players on the squad roster, 16 are international students from 11 different countries across three continents.
The team’s coaching staff are also from other countries. Head coach Dan Stratford and assistant head coach — and former teammate — Andy Wright both hail from England.
Stratford grew up near London and was part of the youth academies of Fulham and Crystal Palace, but ended up playing football and majoring in physical education at the WVU from 2004 to 2007. He works as a head coach at the West Virginia since 2020.
Stratford also held a prestigious position at the University of Charleston, where he eventually became head coach and won two Division 2 national championships in 2017 and 2019.
Stratford’s journey from overseas to playing collegiate in America was very unique for a coach in 2022, rather than as a player in 2004.
“It just so happens that the West Virginia coaching staff was there and asked me if I would be interested, and I still remember my answer was name because I didn’t know anything about it,” Stratford said. “I didn’t know anyone else who did, so I had to do some research. And, eventually, as I learned more, it was an easy yes in the end.”
He added that he wanted to visit the United States and that WVU was willing to offer a campus tour.
“Of the schools I had as an option, West Virginia was very willing to make an official visit, and I came on the weekend of July 4, 2004. And I was here as a player a month later “, said Stratford.
While touring the campus, Stratford said he was amazed by the University’s athletic facilities and programs, such as the soccer fields.
“They showed a lot of confidence and faith in me. It was an amazing offer in terms of scholarships, and I got to see the scale of the operation here,” Stratford said. “It was an exciting opportunity.”
England junior winger Ryan Crooks, who can play on the right or left side, leads the Mountaineers in goals (2) and assists (4). Like Stratford, Cooks hailed from England and played at Oxford United Academy until he was 18 before coming to WVU.
Crooks said the opportunity to play football and study was what interested him in college football at WVU.
“It was a great opportunity compared to England where it’s very fierce, either you play or you study. So you can come here and do both at the same time. It was the best option for me” , Crooks said.
For Crooks, the recruiting process was also very different.
“So there are different types of agencies. They have contacts here. Basically, create a package for yourself with your highlights and videos, and reach out to people they know, and then you just get in touch that way. Then emails and texts, zoom calls,” Crooks said.
“My process was quite difficult because it was [during] COVID, so I couldn’t come to visit, everything was done virtually. And it’s a very exciting time, you have so many people talking to you and you don’t know where you’re going to go in a new country.”
Crooks said having English teammates and coaches helped him a lot and he liked the sporting environment at WVU.
“It really helps me personally, like being English and the coaches too. It just brings the culture together like I know I’d fit in straight away and it would be so much easier,” Crooks said.
“And I love WVU Sports. It’s such a big culture here and it’s more enjoyable. Things like tailgating before games and like how many fans they get. College sports, you don’t understand that, universities in England, it’s only in the professional game and it’s so different here.