Ex-Blue Demon Soccer Star Hopkins Flourishing in Sweden
Aug. 8, 2014
CHICAGO - Patrick Hopkins is carving out a nice pro soccer career for himself in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
After starring for DePaul from 2006-09 and graduating in 2010, Hopkins spent a season playing for the Brisbane Wolves in the Brisbane Premier League in Australia.
Scoring 17 goals and leading the Wolves to the league title provided Hopkins with an opportunity to play at a higher level with Ljungskile SK in Sweden.
His staunch play at center back made an impact on the Swedish soccer world and led to a three-year contract with IK Sirius, moving the former Blue Demon closer to the upper echelon of soccer in that Scandinavian country.
So far this season, Hopkins has 16 starts in 17 games with two goals. His 1,440 minutes is fourth on the team and second among the defenders. He is averaging nearly 85 minutes a game and will play until the end of October.
The season's highlight for Hopkins and IK Sirius so far was their Cinderella run through the Swedish Cup tournament last spring.
Placed in the toughest group, Sirius opened with back-to-back upsets after trailing in the first half. Both Djugarden IF and Halmstad BK are powerful clubs who compete in the Allsvenskan division which is the highest level of pro soccer in Sweden. Sirius is in the Superettan division which is just below Allsvenskan.
"We were drawn into a group with Djugarden, Halmstad, and Assyriska FF---easily the hardest group to advance from out of the eight," Hopkins said. "However, we were lucky to get both Djugarden and Halmstad at home and won both games 2-1.
"The Djugarden and Halmstad matches were quite similar as we went down 1-0 in the first half. But we were able to turn the game around with two goals in the second half. At IK Sirius we have a very strong group that loves playing with each other. Even though we were trailing in both games, we always knew we would have opportunities to turn the game in our favor.
"I had a couple of big plays in the Djugarden match including one where I cleared a ball off our goal line, but for the most part my job is to make sure that our team stays calm and organized. In those two matches I did a good job of that so I didn't have to make any other game-saving plays."
Riding a wave of momentum, Hopkins and his teammates topped Superettan rival Assyriska 2-0 on the road to advance into the quarterfinals. That's where they encountered Swedish Cup contender IFK Gothenburg which finished third in the top division last season.
"The IFK Gothenburg game was incredible," Hopkins said. "There wasn't anyone who expected us to win. But we went into the game knowing that we'd have a lot of space to exploit and counterattack whenever we won the ball, and we did an excellent job of that in the first half for a 1-0 lead.
"The second half was a complete blur as they just threw people forward and made it very difficult for us to possess the ball. Gothenburg plays a style that relies on a lot of crosses into the box so it was a game that played right to my strengths. I just had to win my aerial battles, which I did, and really all of us did that day."
Did Cinderella Sirius have one more fairy-tale finish within the club? They would need it in a semifinal match against powerful Elfsborg which routinely finishes among the top three in the nation.
"The match against Elfsborg didn't go as well as we would have liked," Hopkins said "It was our third game in the Cup against a team that we should have been completely overmatched by (Djugarden, Halmstad, Gothenburg). But it was also the first time when we just didn't have our `A' game.
"We were playing a team with a ton of experience led by Anders Svensson, the most capped player in the history of the Swedish national team. We needed to play a near-perfect game and for Elfsborg to have a sub-par game.
"Unfortunately, we didn't play our best match and they were excellent. The game ended 4-1, but we were the only team to score against them in the Swedish Cup. We were unable to qualify for the Europa League composed of the top teams in Europe, but I think we can be extremely proud of what we accomplished."
Hopkins is aware that followers of IK Sirius probably doubted a run to the Swedish Cup semifinals was possible.
"I guess people outside of the team might consider it a Cinderella run, but we didn't feel like it was," Hopkins said. "We feel like we can compete with any team on our best days and we showed that.
"Sirius is an ambitious club, and they have a right to be. They want to build themselves into a stable Allsvenskan club, and I do see that happening in the near future. It is not going to happen overnight, but we are focused on building a strong foundation that will sustain itself when we jump up into the highest division. We still have a few more hurdles before we are there to stay."
Hopkins could be an integral part of that rise to the top.
"I am 26 now and in the first year of a three-year contract with Sirius. I absolutely love playing this game for a living and I am focused on getting better every single day. I would love to play at a higher level and I know that I have the ability. But I am also content with my life at Sirius for the moment. We'll see what happens when my contract runs out at the end of 2016.
"I really do enjoy my life in Sweden. They have a very good appreciation for work-life balance and the pace of life is much slower here than in the U.S. My favorite Swedish custom is a `fika,' which is essentially just sitting with your friends at some outdoor café in the middle of the day drinking a coffee and having a bakery item while you people-watch. Our season will run until the end of October and I am hoping that I will be able to be in Chicago for about six or seven weeks in November and December."
The story of this hard-working, blue-collar type athlete who came to DePaul with little fanfare and has evolved into a talented pro soccer player could inspire the current Blue Demons to follow his lead.
"I am hoping that some more Blue Demons can make the jump into professional soccer soon," Hopkins said. "I hope that they are even more successful than I have been. Really, all it comes down to is hard work and loving what you do."