TANER DOGAN caught the eye of Dundalk in the Ivy League — but he hopes a spell in a lower league can net him a place in the team.
American attacking midfielder Dogan, 22, this week signed his first professional contract with the Lilywhites, a year after first training with the club.
A lot has happened in the meantime to a player who was spotted by Dundalk playing for Harvard University.
When League of Ireland clubs normally think of recruiting college graduates, it is UCD they have in mind.
But former Dundalk chairman Mike Treacy looked instead to the Ivy League after being tipped off about the economics undergraduate at Harvard in 2019. Dogan told SunSport: “I met him at Harvard and we talked about the possibility of coming over. I came over in the January on trial.
“Initially we had some problems with the work permit so I went back to the one-year student visa, which you could get after you graduate in the States.”
That allowed him to sign as an amateur and he was soon at First Division Athlone Town, while also training regularly with the Lilywhites.
A highly recruited talent as a teenager where he played for the St Louis Scott Gallagher Academy and trained in Scotland with Dundee and St Mirren, he always wanted to play football.
He added: “My dad is Turkish and he introduced me to soccer in the basement at home when I was very young.
“I played every sport until I was 11 or 12 when it was only soccer, as that was the one I enjoyed the most and was playing at a high level.”
Harvard offered a soccer scholarship — the academic requirements are no lower for athletes in the Ivy League — and he jumped at the chance to study economics in Massachusetts.
He went on to captain ‘The Crimson’ while he graduated.
Dogan explained: “It’s a Division One school, the highest level of sport.
“But the attendances are probably not as big as state schools where there’s a big focus on attending games as part of the social life.
OFF TO EUROPE
“But the standard is not much different from the First Division. Quite a few players I played with have gone on to MLS or USL in the States.”
Instead, Dogan headed for Europe and Dundalk.
He spent the first lockdown in London with his girlfriend before returning to Ireland when training restarted last year.
And his experience of games with Athlone and regular training sessions with Dundalk has prepared him for what is expected this season.
FIRST DIVISION EXPERIENCE
He added: “The games were an important piece of my development so to play those games in the First Division was important.
“We also played Shelbourne in the FAI Cup and had a good result against them. I definitely developed as a player in that time.”
He missed the 11-0 FAI Cup semi-final defeat by Dundalk as he was suspended, though he knew well enough just how good the Lilywhites were from training.
Dogan said: “I had trained with them and saw the technique of the players.
“I couldn’t go to their games with the restrictions, and also my Athlone commitments, but the training sessions I had meant I got to see the standard.”
Back in Louth now and on a pro contract, he is relishing a chance to shine at Oriel Park, adding: “I’m really excited to be here.
“I knew Dundalk from their past success and I believe this could be a great step in my career.”