While Georgetown may have lost last year’s NCAA Division I men’s soccer final to Indiana, 1-0, the game capped the school’s best-ever season and launched the professional career of Andy Riemer, one of the team’s top players and a name familiar to anyone in their early 20s who came up playing youth sports in Fairfax County.
The funny thing is, Riemer almost never played for Georgetown, and never would have been in position to score one of the key shootout goals that decided a 4-4 tie with the University of Maryland in the national semifinal game last December. He never would have captured the attention of the Los Angeles Galaxy coaches who chose him in the Major League Soccer supplemental draft in January, and never would have had the moxie to push for a professional soccer career that landed him in a small town 90 miles outside Frankfurt, Germany, these last few months.
Georgetown coach Brian Wiese sheepishly admits he once turned down a key member of the best soccer team in the school’s history. Six years ago he went out to scout Riemer, then a junior at Georgetown Prep, and decided the midfielder didn’t have the size or skill required to play at an up-and-coming Division I soccer program. When Riemer wrote him to ask what he thought of his prospects for playing in college, Wiese suggested he should look into playing Division 3 ball at a school like Washington University (Mo.) or the University of Chicago.
Then, almost a year later, when Riemer was in his senior year of high school, it turned out the Hoyas had an opening for a player with impeccable academic credentials who might work his way into a contributing role within a couple of seasons.
“We’re wondering who could fit that criteria,” said Wiese, who is readying for his eighth year with the Hoyas, “and eventually thought of Andy.”
The coaching staff went out to see the lanky six-footer with bristly dark hair and a pigeon-toed gait in a game against D.C. United’s academy team.
“He was just running them, a team filled with recruited players going to Wake Forest and Maryland,” Wiese said. “He was the best player on the field. It was like looking at a completely different player than we had seen the year before.”
Within his first season at Georgetown, Riemer was the first sub off the bench. By his sophomore year, he was a key player, and by his junior and senior years, opposing teams had to game-plan against him.
It was just one bit of evidence proving Riemer doesn’t take criticism lightly. Getting cut or told he’s not good enough pushes him to smooth out the rough spots in his game. The number one thing Riemer’s coaches said when interviewed for this story was that he never stops trying to improve.
“Guys like him end up achieving really good things because of their work ethic,” said Curt Onalfo, a Galaxy assistant coach with deep ties to Virginia who encouraged the team to take a look at Riemer. “He just needs an opportunity to be a pro and he will continue to get better. He needs to get a little technically cleaner to be a really good professional player. I believe in him.”
While Riemer, 22, was cut by the defending MLS champions in the early spring, he kept chasing his dream of playing pro soccer and packed his bags for a long-term tryout with Idar-Oberstein, a professional soccer team in Germany’s fifth division, about 90 minutes south of Frankfurt. As the Galaxy released him after the transfer period had expired for international players, Riemer was only allowed to practice with Idar-Oberstein, but he’s now signed a contract with them and is training with the team ahead of the season, which begins in early August.
Home for a couple of weeks earlier this summer, Riemer spoke with a contagious optimism about his future as a soccer player, even though he knows making a name for himself will be difficult.
“I want to play soccer for as long as anybody will pay me to play soccer,” said Riemer, who would have attended Langley or Thomas Jefferson if he had chosen the public high school route, and played club soccer with various McLean Youth Soccer squads. “If they pay me enough to buy groceries, that’s all I need [right now].”
Some living expenses, like transportation and housing, are covered by the team, and then players receive performance bonuses depending on how many games they win throughout the year.
It turns out that the idea of playing pro soccer in Germany took root for Riemer as a 13-year-old when his youth team went on a German tour and played matches against teams representing famous squads like Bayern Munich. He even kept a diary that described his goal in a 1-0 victory.
“I fell in love with the culture and the style of play. I took German in high school and college in order to get prepared to go over there,” said Riemer, who scored nine goals and notched a pair of assists last year as Georgetown went 19-4-3. “Wherever I end up, if I play well, I’d be noticed and able to move up the ranks. If I could get into the third division, I’d be doing well.”
Better financially, for sure, but the third “Bundesliga” is akin to something like Major League Baseball’s Class AA, the level that first-division teams turn to for young talent. However, according to his agent, Riemer needs to make the leap from fifth to third within about a year before his name gets stale in Germany.
“If he doesn’t do it within a year, he’s not going to make it. So it’s a tough situation,” says Brian Eylert, who brought U.S. Women’s National Team player Ali Krieger (of Dumfries) to Germany a few years ago. “He has a year to prove he can play at a higher level. ... The main thing in the first year is to get the recognition to move to at least the third league.”
Wiese thinks Riemer can get there based on his work ethic and his ability to stay calm in tricky situations on the field. Wiese recalls Riemer’s skillful goal during a tight game against Rutgers in his freshman year, when he chipped the ball over the goalie’s head during a breakaway.
“It’s one of those moments where you’re saying, ‘OK, that worked.’ It’s not what I would have tried, but he created his own situation and executed something incredibly difficult,” Wiese said. “He had total confidence it was going to work. Totally instinctual, completely calm, and not what 99 of 100 players would have done. He’s a special kid.”
It’s moves like that in important situations that will allow coaches to overlook a certain gawkiness that seems to just be part of Riemer’s game. He’ll never be a beautiful, fluid player, they say, but he gets the job done.
Riemer, the eldest of four kids, seems to have gained immeasurable self-confidence from his mother, Melissa. Instead of pushing her son to do something with his Georgetown degree right away, she’s happy to encourage him.
“To me it’s not necessarily about the sport, it’s about a kid striving to be the best at what he does,” said Melissa Riemer, who has another son, Brian, 19, trying to make a career for himself in musical theater, and two sports prodigies still at home (Jenny, 16, plays soccer, and Justin, 11, plays baseball in the McLean Little League). “I have concerns about things other than soccer. He’s a good kid, a smart kid, he’s got plenty of time in the rest of his life to get a real job.”
And when that time comes to get a “real” job, Riemer hopes he’s exhausted his body playing soccer at the highest possible level.
“My dream is to be the best player I can be and to play as long as possible,” Riemer said. “If some of these things follow [promotions, MLS, a shot at the U.S. National Team], it’s absolutely amazing. It’s a goal that’s changing. It’s being raised. I’m trying to reach this level, then the next level, next level and next level.”
That’s until he’s reached the pinnacle of his profession, which is a worthy goal for anyone.