COLUMBIA — Four years ago, Ross Matthew didn't know what to expect from a college town in the Midwest. At the age of 20, Matthew left Glasgow, Scotland, his family and his girlfriend to take a chance on playing soccer at Columbia College.
As the Cougars played their last regular season home match Wednesday against Quincy, Matthew, now a senior, recalled the journey.
The Columbia College men's soccer team lost 2-1 to NCAA division II Quincy on Wednesday at R. Marvin Owens Stadium. Dylan Barduzzi scored for the Cougars (12-4-1) in the first half.
The Cougars last regular season game is at 1 p.m. Saturday at Truman State University.
It started Scotland where Matthew contacted a company called First Point USA, which works to get athletes scholarships in American sports.
"They put on a showcase event and Coach Klein was there," Matthew said. A few weeks later, John Klein, the Cougars coach, emailed and Matthew was sold.
Florida was the only place Matthew had ever been in the United States before coming to Columbia.
"I didn't really know what the Midwest would be like," Matthew said.
Knowing two players from Scotland who played on the team and having Englishman Lloyd Jacobs as a roommate helped Matthew get used to life in Columbia.
Another transition Matthew had to make was with the pace of the American soccer game.
"The pace of the game is a lot faster here," Matthew said.
But he said it has contributed to his fitness, one of the things Matthew said has improved the most during his time here.
Leaning in and paying close attention is often required when chatting with Matthew. His Scottish accent is thick, but not indecipherable. Still, Matthew has to work to be understood by his teammates.
"I have to think when I'm talking to them," Matthew said. Especially when he gets angry or upset in a game. "I have to slow down and calm down a lot."
Matthew's accent has not prevented him from forming friendships, though, and he said he has some fond memories of his time in Columbia. He said he enjoyed traveling and seeing the country with his teammates and that will be one of the things he misses most about the team when he graduates.
Things have worked out well for Matthew in Columbia, but it having a girlfriend in Scottland was difficult. But this week, Gemma Sadler, now his fiancee, along with his parents, Jan and Barrie Matthew and brother Alan Matthew, are here for an 11-day visit.
Of course, it included the Cougars last home match where Ross Matthew and four other senior players were honored.
The couple has been together for four years and plans to get married in 2012. Ross Matthew was 19 and Sadler was 18 when they started dating. Ross Matthew left for Columbia College six months later. Maintaining their relationship with an ocean between them has been quite a feat.
“We didn’t know if it would work or not, we just tried,” Sadler said.
When Matthew proposed in July 2008, Sadler said she was surprised, but happy. She said she thought he was going to propose after he was through with college. She said she kept busy going to college in Scotland and friends and family were supportive. Technology was helpful too. They talked to each other face to face on their laptop computers using Skype.
Distance even might have improved their relationship.
“It’s gotten stronger since he’s been over here," Sadler said.
Matthew said its possible he could stay on with the Cougars as an assistant coach next season, which would be an obstacle to their relationship, but Matthew seems confident they will be fine.
"We've managed four (years)," Matthew said.
The same uncertainty Matthew felt when he was coming to Columbia looms as he wraps up this season and prepares to graduate with a degree in forensic science. He is not sure what will happen. The only thing he is sure about is Sadler.
As for his time here, it has turned out well.
"It's been a really good experience for me," Matthew said.