After transferring from Youngstown State University to Akron in 2010, former-Youngstown Christian soccer star Kara Cooper-Garland had a meeting that changed her life.
The then-junior forward discussed with then-Akron women's soccer coach Chris Pfau about playing soccer past her college days, and Pfau told Cooper-Garland what he thought she should do to take the next step.
"He said that if I wanted to set records and play at forward, then he would put me up top and that's where he'd leave me," Cooper-Garland said. "In the same conversation, I talked to him about playing after college, and he said, 'Well, if you want to, I think that your best bet is playing in the back.'"
It turned out her old coach should go into the soothsaying business as the 23-year-old Akron graduate now plies her trade for Karlsruher Sport Club in Germany as a professional soccer player.
Cooper-Garland signed a contract during the team's winter break (from December to March) and on Jan. 18 moved to Karlsruhe, a city in southwest Germany that lies just 1 hour away from the border with France.
The opportunity to play in Germany came about through a work connection. Cooper-Garland worked under Scott MacMillan at the Mayor Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center in Niles, and MacMillan turned her onto Tavi Muresan, a friend with a bridge into Europe.
"I didn't think anything of it because it kind of seemed that it wouldn't work out," Cooper-Garland said. "Tavi contacted me, and I sent a highlight film to Sorin (Radu), who is (now) my coach in Germany, and he liked what he saw."
After a successful two-week tryout in November, Cooper-Garland was on her way to Germany.
When the opportunity arose to play overseas, Cooper-Garland's husband, Kevin Garland, had no qualms about the move, despite a lack of German-language skills. The two married last July, and Kevin is an electrician by trade.
"He's been supportive of it from the very beginning," Cooper-Garland said. "He almost wanted me to go more than I did. He's that type of person that is like, 'Let's do it now, and we'll figure it out later.' He hasn't had any second thoughts or any of that."
Cooper-Garland is a part of a large influx of players to join Karlsruhe at the halfway mark in the season due to the team's struggles.
After earning promotion from the Oberliga Baden-Wuerttemberg (a division in the fourth tier of women's soccer in Germany), Karlsruhe recorded just one win in the first half of the season in the Regionalliga Sued (a division in the third tier of women's soccer in Germany) - the first match of the season.
The team has spent most of the season in the cellar of the league. Because of this, Karlsruhe brought in a lot of new players. Along with Cooper-Garland, Jordan Clark, her teammate at Akron, joined, as well as one player who went on a sabbatical and another center back who missed time because of injury.
"When I was over here in November, the coach just pulled me aside and was like, 'We must win seven games,' " she said. "I know that he's feeling a lot of pressure and he doesn't want to bump down to the fourth league. He wants to stay where he's at, and I think that he's done a lot as far as recruitment and bringing in new players to try and help the team to find a new energy."
Since the end of the winter break at the beginning of March, Karlsruhe has played three matches, and Cooper-Garland and Co. managed to pick up one of those seven wins necessary to survive the season - a 3-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on March 17.
She went the distance in all three matches, playing the first match at center back and the final two at right back. Cooper-Garland said Radu likes playing her in defense because of the American style.
"He likes that American soccer is so much more physical than it is over here," she said. "We're much more vocal in the U.S. Over here, it's a lot quieter. I almost feel like I play silent soccer sometimes. The words that I say, I'll just say them in English because I know that they know what it is that I'm saying, and it's better than me not saying anything at all. So, I'm a lot more vocal than the German counterpart, I guess."
No matter her team's success or failure this season, Cooper-Garland said she hopes this stint in Karlsruhe will be a long audition.
Right now, she's on a six-month contract with the team, and if Karlsruhe is relegated in June, she will not go down with the team as they would be below the professional rank. With the team being nine points out of safety with seven matches to go, she might need a contingency plan.
Talking with Muresan before coming over, he said that based on her play, this could be a stepping stone to a longer career in Germany. Cooper-Garland, meanwhile, is just happy to have the opportunity to play.
"Me being over here is just a miracle in and of itself," she said. "I'm so thankful and blessed to even be over here for the short time that I am. Anything past these next six months would just be even better and awesome to continue my soccer career."