At 6’7” tall, Lukas Strauts doesn’t look all that much like a prospective professional Latvian soccer goalie. His short cropped hair makes him look slightly older than his 22 years, and his winter jacket dotted with rain wasn’t the athletic sort you would expect.
But with a Latvian bracelet on his wrist, a Latvian passport to his name and confidence in his voice, North Delta’s Strauts is looking to make a name for himself in Eastern European professional soccer.
“I’ve always related to my father’s history, and really … identified with it,” Strauts said. His dad, and long-time soccer coach, is from Latvia and has family there.
“I want to be able to have some national pride,” he continued. “And it’s not that I wouldn’t want to play for Canada too, but I would say I’m on the map in Latvia and Canada doesn’t even know about me.”
Strauts has been playing soccer since he was three, making the switch to goalkeeping when he was nine or 10.
“I really enjoyed being that last line of defence, that kind of guy who the team has to rely on to keep them in the game,” he said about the move to being a goalie. “And I still like it to this day, kind of being the commander of the field.”
Strauts started his career playing for the community North Delta Soccer Club, before hitting the pitch for the University of Victoria and Langara College after graduating from Seaquam Secondary.
But in 2016, at the end of his season with the Langara team, Strauts got the opportunity to take his soccer skills to a European stage, trying out for the German amateur team TSV Meersbusch.
“They didn’t really expect much,” he said. “I paid my own way out there. I really wanted to see if I had what it takes.”
By the sounds of it, he did. He played for the team over the course of a season, learning new techniques and strategies.
It wasn’t easy though, in part because the goalkeeping coach didn’t speak English.
One time, Strauts was going through speed ladders during practice using his usual footwork: the left foot in, then the right foot, the right foot out, then the left foot. His coach wanted him to do something different.
“He kept telling me in sort of a broken English, ‘No, no. This is how you’re supposed to do it,’ because I had never done that foot pattern before,” Strauts said. His coach, who was an older man, ended up having to demonstrate the foot pattern: one foot in, then both feet out.
Even so, the team offered him a contract after a season over there, but he wasn’t able to take it because the pay they could offer as an amateur team wouldn’t be enough to support him. As a counteroffer, they referred him to an agent, who wrangled him a tryout with one of the premier soccer teams in Germany: FC Kaiserslautern.
Strauts called it “sort of a miracle” that he got the tryout, but that’s where the miracle ended. He didn’t make the team.
“I learned a lot from failing at that team,” he said. “I learned what I was missing in my game and what I needed to work on.
“I was at kind of a crossroads of, ‘Do I want to continue pushing forward and chasing what I want,’ or looking other ways,” he continued. “I decided, I’m young, this is what I really want to be doing. I’ve had so much positive. I think I can fix the things in my game that need fixing, and I can get there.”
Strauts returned home, wiser. He found a new goalkeeping coach, spent nights analyzing YouTube clips. He beefed up his technical footwork and focused on game tactics. Then he sent his resume and a video of his goalkeeping clips to the Latvian Football Federation.
On Jan. 22, Strauts will be leaving for tryouts for Latvia’s FK Jelgeva, a team in the top tier of association football in Latvia.
“I wanted to start in Latvia … at a reasonable level and work my way up,” he said. “Build a reputation and see where I want to go from there. Who know where I could end up.
“The first step is making the team over there and seeing where that leads me.”