Riding through Baltimore City for the first time this summer, Lucas Simonsen looked out the car window in amazement.
He saw all the huge modern buildings, car after car racing by and the people. Where did all the people come from?
The 16-year-old exchange student from Jelling, Denmark, a tiny town of 3,000, is spending the school year at Poly taking in all the vast differences from his quiet life back home.
And while every day brings something new, he’s grateful to have found some of the same old from back home.
His haven is the soccer field as a member of the Poly soccer team.
“I love playing soccer and it has helped me get friends here and the team experience is great. Everybody is backing up for each other and is always there for each other,” he said.
The Engineers entered the season with high expectations in the Baltimore City league and the unexpected addition of Simonsen has heightened them. He has mostly played center midfield, but has displayed gifted skills that have been utilized all over the field. Following a 2-0 win over Baltimore County rival Digital Harbor on Thursday, the Engineers are 7-2-1 with Simonsen contributing seven goals and one assist.
At the first day of practice on August 19, he was already on the field when coach Ian Briggs and the returning players were walking down from the school. He handed Briggs his eligibility papers and asked his new coach if he could play.
“Obviously you have the core guys coming back and then the new ones that you just never know,” Briggs said. “My normal routine with new players is I ask: ‘Can you play?’ And they all say they can. I then say: ‘OK, that’s fine. But I’ll tell you right now, give me five minutes and I can tell if you can actually play the game or not.”
That’s indeed all Briggs needed to see from Simonsen and the complete training session told him more about his new addition.
High technical skills? Check.
Can pass and shoot with both feet? Check.
Can dribble past opponents? Check.
Is strong in the air? Check.
Has composure and game sense? Check.
Coach Briggs leaving the field that first day with a big smile? Check.
“From his first touch, I was like ‘Yeah he can play.’ After the first day, I realized: ‘OK, right! We have a real one on our hands here!’” Briggs said.
Senior standout Kamran Guchemand was on vacation for the first few days of practice, but quickly heard the buzz. Soon after, he saw firsthand.
“My teammates were texting me ‘Yeah he’s really good and has been playing great.’ And then the first practice I was there, he dribbled past three of our defenders and scored a goal. I was like ‘All right, yeah,’” said Guchemand.
The Poly program has steadily improved since they won two games in Briggs’ first season as coach in 2014. Guchemand, along with captains Ian Stadelmaier and Dennis Vargas, are a few of the core pieces that returned looking to build on the eight wins the team enjoyed last year.
This season has already brought some telling results with Simonsen playing big roles.
The Engineers trailed Baltimore City rival Patterson, 4-2, midway through the second half when they busted out with four goals — Simonsen scoring the tying goal — for a 6-4 win. Against Dulaney, a formidable Baltimore County team that handled them easily last season, they earned a 2-2 draw with Simonsen seeing most of his time at central defender.
Dulaney coach Danny Skelton took notice of the new kid in the middle for Poly, quickly recognizing his exceptional understanding of the game based on his positioning, skills and quick decisions.
“It was far beyond anybody else on the field,” he said.
“He always positioned himself to be successful whether it was against one of our really athletic fast forwards or a stronger more physical forward. He just knew how to handle any situation really well.”
“In a game where we produced a number of chances and should have scored more goals, he was a massive reason why the game ended up tied because he put out so many fires for them. It almost seemed effortless for him, pretty impressive.”
Adjusting to a big city in a new country hasn’t been easy, but Simonsen, an only child, has been receptive and thrived with help from his host family from Federal Hill, teammates and coaches. His days are longer than back home with an hour-long bus ride needed to get across town to and from school. Practices here are every weekday when there isn’t a game, while just two days a week there. The studies are more demanding with more homework.
Briggs describes him as a fun, laid-back kid who can be refreshingly direct. Guchemand said he’s fit in as well off the field as well as on it.
“He’s a really cool person to hang out with. He’s easy to get along with and everyone is really cool with him,” he said.
He’s already enjoyed crab cakes, loves burgers and fast food, and plans to take in a football game soon.
“It’s been really great, so much different from where I am from,” he said. “From the start, it felt like vacation, but then I got into the routine and it’s good.”
As for his work on the soccer field, he started playing the sport when he was four years old and said the level he plays in Denmark is higher compared to here, that’s come easy.
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“It’s just doing what I can for the team as well as I can and give what I can to the game to add to the team,” he said.