NOTE: This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.
The San Francisco Glens are no stranger to developing players for the professional ranks.
This year alone, the fourth-division amateur club, which competes in USL League Two, had four of their players drafted by first-division Major League Soccer clubs. Another signed with newly minted pro club Oakland Roots SC.
A sixth Glen at the next level might be in the works, as 21-year-old defender Aydan Bowers has earned a trial with European club FC Helsingor. The club currently competes in the Danish second division and remarkably boasts an ownership group that includes four Bay Area-based investors with minority stakes in the Golden State Warriors. Further intriguing is that the club is intent on bringing in talent from across the Atlantic.
“FC Helsingor is a club helping Americans go abroad and further their careers, so I’m super excited to be a part of this,” said Bowers, who starred at both San Francisco State and the Glens under head coach Javier Ayala-Hil. “I want to thank the SF Glens, especially Javi, who has developed me into the player I am today, and [technical director] Jimmy [Conrad] for teaching me what it takes to get to the next level.”
The 6-foot, left-footed Bowers played both left back and center back with the Glens; the latter is his more natural position.
“To see MLS clubs—and now European ones like FC Helsingor—identify our players as potential pros is a testament to what we’ve been building with out USL League Two club,” said Glens general manager Mike McNeill. “We wish Aydan the best of luck and hope he can make the most of this opportunity.”
Bowers will be reunited with FC Helsingor’s North American sporting director Matt Barnes, who was Ayala-Hil’s predecessor as head coach at SF State and played a part in recruiting the defender out of high school. Though Bowers was initially a walk-on without any scholarship offers, he bloomed into a Division II All-American by his senior year.
“Aydan didn’t have the classic size and pace that everyone looks for in the college game, but he had this innate ability to read the game and keep possession of the ball,” said Barnes, who is coming off a spell as Turks and Caicos Islands national team coach. “Aydan plays with a chip on his shoulder, and I have always liked that about him.”
Of course, a trial does not equate to a contract. Bowers will have to prove he belongs in Europe.
“For Aydan to find success in Helsingor, he’s going to have improve his decision-making and technical abilities,“ Barnes added. “I do, however, believe that he will be able to set himself apart in some areas, including his abilities in the air. … If he can keep up with the pace of the game and the physicality, he will have a good shot at making this roster.”
The move is part of new FC Helsingor chairman Jordan Gardner’s unique vision. Tired of seeing the lack of young Americans getting minutes stateside in MLS, he wanted to take control of a European club that could serve as a landing spot for them.
“No one has really tried to specifically and strategically target the American player, and bring them to Europe,” said the San Francisco-based Gardner, who is also part of ownership groups with stakes in English side Swansea City AFC and reigning League of Ireland champion Dundalk FC. “No one is connecting the dots on both sides.
“We picked Helsingor specifically because it had very good infrastructure, a strong academy, a new stadium opening this summer, and good geographic proximity to Copenhagen.”
It also helps that Denmark has more relaxed restrictions for signing foreign players and less of an language barrier than other European nations as 86 percent of the population speaks English, according to the European Commission.
But most importantly, per Gardner, Danish clubs value giving young players first-team minutes. FC Nordsjælland’s Jonathan Amon, who earned his first call-up to the U.S. National Team last year, is one example of a player who was noticed because he received opportunities to shine in Denmark.
Still, sending players across the Atlantic won’t be a cheap endeavor. However, the club’s financial situation is secure thanks to a team of investors that includes the Warriors’ minority-owner quartet of Zappos founder Nick Swinmurn, Avista Investments founder Harry Tsao, Passport Capital hedge fund founder John Burbank, and Michael de Anda, Principal at de Anda Capital.
So far, Helsingor have signed one player from the U.S., former MLS midfielder Collen Warner. If Gardner’s bet is ultimately a successful one, it will be due in part to the rapid progression of prospects like Bowers.
“We are in a very unique space, and our project has gotten an incredible amount of positive traction in such a short time,” Gardner said. "We are confident that within the next three to five years, we will be in the mix to continue landing top young American talent who see FC Helsingor as a perfect entry point to start their careers in Europe.”
GLENS ADD PAIR OF YOUTH INTERNATIONALS, ST. MARY’S STAR TO BOLSTER DEFENSE
Bowers’s departure left a void in the Glens’ back line, but a trio of new signings should help close it fairly quickly.
Cal defenders C.J. Grey and J.J. Foe Nuphaus have agreed in principle to one-year deals with San Francisco, as has St. Mary’s stalwart J.D. Michael. All signings are subject to league approval.
Grey, who played last season for the Glens, has been called to the Jamaica Under-20 national team, and Foe Nuphaus recently suited up for the United States Under-19s. Meanwhile, Michael started in all 20 games in 2018 for the Gaels, who finished the regular season unbeaten (18-0-2) and were ranked fourth nationally.
The Glens’ road trip continues June 21 and 22 when they face the Southern California Seahorses and LA Galaxy’s Under-23 affiliate, the San Diego Zest, respectively. The Green and White then return home to Boxer Stadium on June 30 against the Ventura County Fusion for the club’s first $2 Beer Night. All games are streamed on twitch.tv/jimmyconrad.