“The level is higher than the Eredivisie”
Goalkeeper Morton Pius has been doing well. The 24-year-old from Nijmegen is now causing a stir at American FC Dallas and is enjoying life in America to the fullest and the big stars roaming the MLS. After a long spell at the NEC and a volatile era at FC Utrecht, Pius is undisputedly at the top of the ‘Hoops’. ForzaNEC spoke to the Nijmegen goalie this week.
FC Dalles played against the defending MLS champions LAFC last weekend. Pius and his teammates struggled against Gareth Bale’s club last season, but they lost 2-1. Despite this loss, Dallas continues to perform well in MLS. The Texans are fifth in the Western Conference, which includes all Western clubs. At the end of the season, fifth place will qualify for the play-offs for the national title. “It’s going well. “I had a good first year last year and now I’m pulling it off,” begins Pius. “We started the season well and now we want to build on that.”
Before Pius ended up in America, the Nijmegen resident played for Union and NEC. The goalkeeper went through the entire youth academy of the Nijmegen team, but did not get a basic place at first. It sometimes snarls at the keeper. “I did not feel the confidence I expected from the NEC. I played only five games in a youth tournament where I had to share my place with Joshua Smits and Marco van Duyn. When I came to the Dutch juniors, you saw all the boys making minutes at the highest level, but I had to do those five games in the youth competition. It all looked like I wouldn’t be NEC’s first keeper in a short time.
The situation was hopeless, and Pius then sought refuge elsewhere. “I went to Utrecht and I was soon asked how on earth I missed the chance at the NEC,” laughs Pius now. “I made a quick debut and then you sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have that confidence from the NEC.” Nevertheless, Kohli looks back on his time at NEC with a good feeling. “Things go the way they go, but I learned a lot at NEC and I’m very grateful to the club for that.”
Despite the fact that Pius was not allowed to play a single minute for the first team, the keeper had enough experience at the NEC. “My first year was under Ernst Faber. It was certainly an amazing season in which we, as a PhD student, only missed the play-offs for European football. After that we got off to a good start under Peter Hyballa, but things went completely wrong in the second half of the season. The NEC would make the playoffs later that season. “In Breda we played NAC completely off the mat but we conceded 1-0 in the last minute. That home game was disastrous and we got relegated.
All this made Pius something. “As a boy from Nijmegen, I felt very sorry for the supporters. You also know that after an ejection you have to close the stadium shutters for a while and boo the crowd. Pius remained at the club and his chances did not shrink due to relegation. “But it was very exciting under Adrien Bogers and then Pepijin Lijnders. I think we won every home game but lost every game. When you look at that team (including players like Tanjuma, Kadioglu and Achaber), how can we not inspire with such a good team? You really are amazing”, Pius looks back.
In the summer of 2018, Pius will sign his contract with FC Utrecht. After 3.5 years, with many ups and downs from Domstad to club, Pius ended up in Dallas. As a 23-year-old, a move to America was not clear. Most soccer fans view American football with some indifference. Not in the first place because football is experienced very differently here than in Europe, but because footballers there often end their careers.
Pius wanted nothing to do with these prejudices. “I went to America because I was ready for a new move. I first played here on loan for half a year, with the option to buy. I liked both sides and that’s why I stayed here. I think the way people in the Netherlands see football is a bit outdated. The level here is a bit higher than the Eredivisie, And this is because of the high fees here. The game is really growing. The 2026 World Cup should be the real climax, but a lot is being invested in football and as a result you can see the quality of players and the competition getting better and better.
Champions League distances
Since America is the largest country, the competition is divided into two parts: East and West competition. That doesn’t change the fact that the distance teams have to cover for a match is huge. “Sometimes you play at 6,000 feet in Colorado, then you play on the beach in Los Angeles. It is very beautiful here. When we played against LAFC, we stayed in the best hotel in Santa Monica Beach, which is definitely better than FC Emmen-away, with all due respect,” says Pius with a smile. More and more new and beautiful football stadiums are being built to attract 40,000 people. They are very pleasant experiences.”
It’s no surprise that American competition continues to grow, as elimination is unlikely. “Each club has the same budget and it ensures you have fourteen comparable teams in each league (East and West). In terms of management the clubs have to excel and it ensures it’s all very close,” explains the keeper. “So you don’t get matches like Ajax-Excelsior with a budget of 200 million euros, but you always have two equal teams. However, each club is allowed to have three players for whom they have to pay a lot of money (a Bale, Insinge and the former David Beckham, ed.) And everyone else should adhere to it. Salary limit conduct.”
Living in Dallas as a Nijmegen resident doesn’t seem ideal, but Pius certainly isn’t bad. Despite the seven-hour time difference, Pius was able to keep in touch with friends and family. “My girlfriend is a top model, so she travels a lot. But if she can, she’s there and we can be together. It can be difficult at times with family, but you will find the mode and balance to stay in touch. Sometimes you feel lonely, but luckily the people here are hospitable. People approach you much faster here than in the Netherlands, so you can have some social interaction. There is a lot to do here, so I have a lot of opportunities.
The native Nijmegen resident also follows the NEC, although the time difference sometimes throws a spanner in the works. “The 12:15 games are a tough story because it’s already five o’clock. Of course I follow NEC and FC Utrecht with extra interest. I was in touch with Wilfried Brughuis (Goalkeeper Coach Academy, ed.) last week and I still like it. Then a little chat. I also go to Nijmegen sometimes, and when you cross the Wall Bridge into the city, it feels like coming home.
Pius sees NEC growing exponentially. Things are going well at Nijmegen after promotion and the keeper is also doing well. “Boekhoorn have taken a bit more control and you can see that there is a good policy at the NEC. I have seen a big upgrade in the changing rooms and the training complex and you can see that it is becoming more and more professional. There is a good mix of experience and youth in the squad so hopefully they will make it to the play-offs. .Then, like a promotion in 2021, I’ll sit on the couch nervously.
NEC have no complaints especially in the goalkeeper department this season. Jasper Cillessen is the undisputed number one followed by Mattijs Branderhorst. Rijk Jans and Robin Rofes are NEC’s top goalkeeper talents and are in full development. But, as Wilco van Schaik once said, ‘a football career is not infinite’. Will we ever see Morton Pius play in an NEC shirt again? “I can’t say much about the future. It doesn’t change the fact that Nijmegen feels like home and NEC is a fantastic club, so I’ll never say never. But at the moment I am very happy here, so I will continue to do what I can, and after that I will definitely not come back,” concludes Pius.
Photos: Rob Coopers and screenshot YouTube channel Major League Soccer
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