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SSFC Spotlight: Brian Schwake climbing the pyramid in Scotland

The goalkeeper is gaining crucial match experience at a young age.

Dundee FC v Greenock Morton FC - Cinch Scottish Championship Photo by Ross Parker/SNS Group via Getty Images

Playing college soccer is a path that is unique to the United States and a select few other nations. Some players attempt to earn a degree while competing in the sport, while others make the decision to push for the professional level. Brian Schwake began pursuing a university education before changing direction and heading to Scotland with Livingston. The 21-year-old goalkeeper has climbed the league pyramid through a series of loans and impressed at each successive stop.

Born in Mount Prospect, Illinois, Schwake grew up competing with the Olympic Development Program at the regional level and the Sockers FC academy, reaching the semifinals of the United States Soccer Development Academy playoffs. Coaches cited his “work ethic, drive, and competitiveness” as setting him apart from others. He was able to train with Blackburn Rovers, whose staff eventually referred him to Livingston.

Listed as a two-star recruit by TopDrawerSoccer, Schwake committed to DePaul University. He failed to make any appearances during his freshman year outside of a preseason friendly, hampered by a torn ligament in his wrist. At the end of the season, Livingston FC of the Scottish Premiership brought him in for a trial, with the coaching staff considering him “very highly rated.”

After three months and an invitation to winter training camp in Spain, the Lions signed him to a professional contract, with the goalkeeper highlighting the club’s bright future. “Playing at a university is a pathway lots of Americans go down but playing pro for as long as I can was always what I wanted to do,” Schwake told the Daily Record. “I understand the advantages of playing at university but those four years that I’d have been playing there are crucial for development... It’s really just a better environment and learning opportunity for me to have as long a career as I possibly could and that’s my aim.”

His initial few months were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed him to focus in the gym in order to prepare for the rigors of the professional game. Following a single inclusion in the match-day squad against Rangers, the club sent him on loan to nearby local side Linlithgow Rose F.C. of the sixth-tier East of Scotland League Premier Division, providing the opportunity to “get [his] foot in the door.” He made three appearances in the Scottish FA Cup, reaching the second round of the competition and gaining experience while also continuing to train full-time with Livingston.

Impressed with his performances and “commitment to development,” the club signed him to a contract extension through June of 2023. “He is a fantastic young goalkeeper and has everything required to become Livingston’s number 1 in the near future,” said manager David Martindale. “We will look at getting Brian out on loan next season as we are all in agreement that this will ultimately give him the best chance of playing for Livingston FC as early as possible in his career. He is a talented, young goalkeeper and between Brian and our goalkeeper coach Tony Caig, I have no doubt that Brian will be a Livingston number one in the coming seasons.”

In June of 2021, Schwake had “several options” and was sent on loan to Edinburgh City F.C. (now known as F.C. Edinburgh), then competing in Scottish League Two. Beginning as a backup, he quickly earned the starting role and appeared in 42 matches across all competitions. After a fourth-place finish in the table, the young American led the Citizens through the playoffs to promotion, standing on his head during the two-leg final against Annan Athletic, earning Man of the Match honors. The SPFL named him to the Team of the Season.

Schwake’s rise up the Scottish pyramid continued this season, this time being loaned to Greenock Morton. He has thrived at the Inverclyde club, playing in 24 matches across all competitions and twice being named to the Team of the Week, already eclipsing his clean sheet total with Edinburgh. Buoyed by an early streak of four consecutive shutouts, The Ton are currently at fourth place in the table and pushing for a spot in the Premiership, only six points behind leaders Dundee. The 21-year-old may earn a personal promotion as Livingston has the ability to recall him this month, but the plan is for him to “get 80-100 games under his belt” before competing for the number-one job.

“Right now, it’s just about getting the games in and getting experience,” he told First Touch. “Ultimately, every player wants to play at the highest level, and I [am] going to give it a real shot. I have another year on my contract with Livi, and I’m not looking beyond that, but I’m really happy with how things have gone so far and I’m excited for the future.”

At the international level, Schwake is eligible for the United States and likely Luxembourg, the latter from his father’s family. His citizenship of the Western European nation is a relatively recent development and should continue to provide a boost to his club career. As to a potential future call-up, D’Roud Léiwen (The Red Lions) appears to have more space on the depth chart at his position.

Standing at 6’2”, Schwake has a penchant for wonderfully acrobatic saves from point-blank range and was named one of the top American goalkeepers under the age of 24 by Everybody Soccer. He is highly accurate in possession, completing 73% of his long passes, and has stopped two penalties this current season. His ability to get down quickly has denied more than a few opponents, while highly accurate long throws and purposeful punts spring multiple counter-attacks. Agility is also an asset, allowing him to change direction after deflections and still pull off stops.

The path of a goalkeeper can be a winding route, with limited playing time that is often claimed by experienced veterans. Schwake got a jumpstart on his professional career and has, through a series of loans, put himself in a position to earn minutes in the Scottish Premiership, perhaps in the near future. The willingness to leave the familiar and head into challenging circumstances has paid off. Whether he reaches the heights of the USMNT remains to be seen, but his trajectory is currently pointed upward.