Apr. 11—Claire Stackel is continuing her soccer journey, which has taken her beyond the college ranks and to Europe to play professionally.
In search of some adventure, Stackel looked to a friend and former teammate who had played in Europe before, and now she is now in Hungary, playing in the country's highest level of the sport.
"A friend I played with during club, who played at SU collegiately, played professionally in Iceland last fall," Stackel said in an email. "I reached out to her, and she gave me her agent's contact. From there, he sent my highlight reel to different European clubs."
Stackel is playing for Diósgyőri VTK, a team located in Miskolc in the central European nation.
"I would say it's an experience to play in Eastern Europe," she said. "Many things are still outdated here. My time abroad would definitely be different if I were to be in, say, Spain or Italy."
Stackel, who has played as a midfielder for much of her soccer career, continued:
"I play in the First Division of the Hungarian League, and the level of soccer is moderate," she said. "The top two teams in the league are very technical whereas our style, unfortunately, is about waiting for a counterattack."
Stackel is playing a different role on the soccer pitch in Europe as she's been deployed as a defensive midfielder.
Throughout her collegiate career, as well as in high school soccer with Copenhagen, Stackel mostly played as a central midfielder.
"My team currently has four other Americans (one went home with an ACL tear)," said Stackel, who led Copenhagen to a state championship in her senior season in 2015. "There is a Canadian from Alberta, two Romanians, two Greeks, a Serbian, and the rest are Hungarian. I play defensive midfield, we are third in the table right now."
"The style of soccer is definitely different than in America," she said. "It is way less physical with ticky-tacky fouls always being called. Instead of a fast and furious style, it's played more like men play soccer over here."
Stackel arrived in Hungary in February and has played eight games with the team through Saturday. Competing in the Hungarian First League, the team travels for games within the country, including to its capital city, Budapest. The team's season stretches into May.
"We generally have two days off per week," she said. "We do visit Budapest to play soccer, but I've only gone on one trip to explore the city. With COVID restrictions, restaurants are not open, so the city was dead. I had originally planned to travel Europe after my season, or during, but I am itching to get back on American soil."
The city of Miskolc is located in northeastern Hungary and known for its heavy industry.
"Miskolc is the fourth largest city in Hungary. It's an industrial city — it smells like a bonfire at night because of the factories where I live on the outskirts. The actual city is very charming with cafes and coffee shops spread throughout. A one-line tram spans the entire city.
"We do not travel outside of the country — if we were to win the league, we would get a bid into the UEFA Champions League and would have the opportunity to travel."
As far as Hungarian culture and cuisine: "I do enjoy the food around Hungary. Think a lot of braised meats and sponge cakes. They also eat hot dogs for breakfast here, which is odd to me."
Stackel made the move to the professional ranks after attending Le Moyne College and then the University at Albany, where she started as a central midfielder at both schools.
With the Dolphins, Stackel tallied 24 points, including nine goals, in 32 games over two seasons, all as a starter, with the team reaching the Northeast-10 Conference semifinals in 2016.
"I enjoyed being on a team in college," she said. "I enjoyed club and high school soccer more, but I did like playing in a close enough proximity to home that my parents could come to all of my college games," Stackel said. "At Le Moyne, it was fun to be amongst the league's top players, and I enjoyed the small classes and Jesuit curriculum involved."
With Albany, Stackel also played two seasons, totaling four goals and four assists in 39 games, including 35 as a starter. In her final campaign with the Great Danes, the team won 14 games, including winning the America East conference tournament and reached the Division I NCAA Tournament,
"At Albany, I made great friends and was pushed physically, and I was able to graduate a semester early," Stackel said.
Academically, Stackel earned a bachelor's degree in finance at Le Moyne and then a bachelor's degree in business administration and management at Albany.
Following college, Stackel talked to Taylor Bennett, a former Syracuse Development Academy teammate who went on to play at Syracuse University for four seasons, as well as professionally in Iceland. Bennett relayed Stackel's contact information to her agent.
For now, Stackel is enjoying playing the game she loves, but she likely won't head back overseas to play soccer again.
"This will be my last season playing professionally," said Stackel, who just celebrated her birthday this past week. "I have realized that I no longer have the passion for the game that I once had, so it would be unfair to me and any potential clubs in the future to continue."
Instead, she'll be gearing up to pursue her career, which could take several different paths.
"I did work right out of college as a press coordinator for the New York State Assembly, but I am looking to transition into more of a career in brand strategy, consulting, or advertising," she added.