Watch one Columbia College men’s soccer game and it won’t take long for you to spot Ryan Harrisskitt.
Most games during the Cougars’ unprecedented 20-0 start to the season, he’s all by himself. His bright orange kit with black “COLUMBIA” lettering gives him the look of a traffic cone wading on an island of green turf. He has nearly a whole half of the field to him, isolated from the high defensive line of his back four spending most of the game near the halfway line.
If that doesn’t give him away, he’s the loudest person on the pitch, barking orders to his team in his thick, piercing English accent. “Organize! Tighter!” he screams to his defense and midfield, who’ve heard him loud and clear to the tune of a NAIA-low seven goals allowed all season.
Perhaps only a kicker in football has as much of a polarizing role in sports as that of a goalkeeper in soccer. Make the plays you’re supposed to and the respect of teammates is earned, make silly errors that result in defeat and respect can be quickly lost.
Good for Harrisskitt that he’s well-respected, then. So much so, in fact, that league coaches named him this season’s American Midwest Conference Player of the Year thanks to an NAIA-low 0.35 goals allowed per game average.
It’s been a career year for the senior, and a long journey — figuratively and literally.
“I came around quite fast coming over here ... and doing what I’ve done, well, I’m grateful for every moment of it,” Harrisskitt said. “I wish I could go back to that little kid and tell him that you’re going to have fun. It’s been seriously enjoyable.”
Hailing from the port city of Hartlepool on the northeast coast of England, Harrisskitt went often as a kid with his family to games of the local club, Hartlepool United. He quickly found his favorite player and one of his biggest goalkeeping influences.
Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, a Greek goalkeeper who bounced around several English clubs in a 23-year career, had a stint at Hartlepool from 2003-07, right at the height of Harrisskitt’s fandom. He was in awe of the 6-foot-5 shot-stopper who made 117 appearances for the club, the most of any team in the career of “Dimi.”
“He was me hero when I was a kid,” Harrisskitt said. “I had his name on the back of me shirt, I had a tiny little kid’s shirt and the name was like, massive on the back. But I used to love that guy. I used to go watch the Hartlepool games like week-in, week-out, and he was amazing. He was a beast.”
But once he came to America, it took Harrisskitt a while to settle into life stateside. He didn’t come to CC immediately, having previous stints at Evangel (Mo.) and Iowa Lakes Community College before enrolling at his current school.
The school year also means visits home are few and far between, but there’s an important figure still supporting him abroad: his father.
Harrisskitt said that each game, his Dad will stay awake — as late as 3 a.m. in England for a 7 p.m. game in the U.S. — to watch his son play on a live stream. Harrisskitt then checks his phone after each match and gets the same words of encouragement from his father: “Well done, son.”
“The biggest role model I’ve got is me Dad,” Harrisskitt said. “He’s always been there. Always watches the games, even when it’s late on a night and stuff like that. I’ve always got a text saying (after the game) ... well done on this, well done on that. So far, he hasn’t had to say anything other than ‘Well done.’ But I mean, I feel like I would do it. I feel like I’d do the exact same thing.”
Once he got to CC at the start of his junior year, Harrisskitt was immediately tasked with the monumental role of replacing Nicolau Neto — an All-American, AMC Player of the Year and one of the finest players between the sticks in CC history.
So as assistant coach Meg Goddard filled Harrisskitt in on who he was scheduled to replace as she drove him to Columbia from a flight to Kansas City, he quickly became alarmed. Fortunately, Neto stayed on the CC staff as an assistant after graduation and quickly became a goalkeeping mentor to Harrisskitt, instead of just the guy he was replacing.
“He was like 6-foot-4, Brazilian, he was a beast. I was like, ‘Damn, I’ve got a lot to live up to,’” Harrisskitt said. “The amount he knows about not just goalkeeping, but football in general, is insane. He’s a really, really good goalkeeper and a really, really good coach. I owe a lot of this season to him, in my opinion.”
Now solidly CC’s No. 1 choice between the sticks, he’ll almost certainly — barring injury or an unexpected switch — start in goal for the Cougars in their NAIA National Tournament opening round game. That will be 5 p.m. Saturday at R. Marvin Owens Field against the winner of Friday’s match between Dalton State (Ga.) and Embry-Riddle (Ariz.).
Harrisskitt didn’t immediately know much about either possible opponent (“I googled them,” he said), but the fact that he and his squad are able to scout them Friday afternoon he said was a huge advantage.
Being undefeated and full of confidence helps, too.
“At the minute now ... it kind of seems like there’s an air of invincibility about us, but like not in an arrogant way,” Harrisskitt said. “Even if things aren’t going right ... everyone’s confident that what we want to happen is going to happen eventually. The result that we want to get is the result that it’s going to be on the day, and it’s a really nice feeling.”