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Aussie keeper’s wild adventure from Toowoomba to England, Portugal, USA

Caleb Patterson-Sewell Source: Getty Images

The life of a second-string goalkeeper can be one of the most tough and demanding in professional football, and Australian Caleb Patterson-Sewell knows that maxim better than most.

Playing in six different countries and for at least 14 different clubs, the keeper has packed a lot into his wild and wonderful career, including coming close to selection for the Socceroos at one point.

Now 33 and based in Nashville, USA, Patterson-Sewell has no plans to hang his gloves just yet. Most recently on the books of Toronto FC, and then spending 2020 as a pool goalkeeper for Major League Soccer (MLS), he is on the hunt for a new club.

“I was going to go to Seattle Sounders last year and then COVID hit,” he told The World Game. “It’s a kind of a weird way how it works over here but the league owns all the contracts of the players. They can kind of do as they please. So originally I had a couple of offers in the off-season heading into last year.

“I took an offer in Asia and I went across there. When I arrived they changed the value of the contract, which I’ve heard nightmare stories about. I was one of the lucky ones it happened to. So I decided to come back to the States."

Patterson-Sewell says he almost landed a deal in the A-League at the start of 2021, with talks held with an unnamed Australian club, but he is now hopeful of securing a deal in America.

“There’s a couple of different options available,” he said.

“A couple of weeks ago there was an opportunity to go back to Australia, but there was quarantine and that was the reason that the club decided not to follow through. They needed someone right away."

Patterson-Sewell’s backpacker-styled, unique career has taken him from rural Queensland to Belgium, England, the United States and Portugal. His time in football all started when he and his family moved to the tiny Queensland town of Gatton, population around 7000, from America when he was two years old.

“Half my family is Australian,” the keeper explained.

“My brother and his family live in Brisbane, my mum’s side is Australian, I did all of my schooling there. I’m from a small town called Gatton, it’s just 30-45 minutes from Toowoomba.

“It’s a rural area, soccer definitely wasn’t the most prominent sport when I was growing up. That’s kind of where home is for me. That’s where I kind of stumbled into soccer.

“I played a lot of cricket growing up, I was in the emerging players program for cricket and then I kind of stumbled into soccer – I made the regional team, then the state team, it was one thing after another. And then I started to take it a little bit more serious.

“As I got to 13 or so we ended up moving to Brisbane so I had access to training. I joined the Queensland Academy of Sport, I joined up with Queensland Lions so I was playing for Miron Bleiberg at the time, he was the state-level coach. And then after the QAS I took a shot at going overseas, that’s when I departed from Australian football so to speak.”

At 17 the shot-stopper headed to Europe for a trial with Belgian giants Anderlecht. He would later go on to play academy football for English sides Sheffield Wednesday and Liverpool.

“I had an agent from Australia, Eddie Krncevic,” Patterson-Sewell said. “He played for them and he took me across there. It wasn’t a very long time there, but then I went to England. When I was in England we had to kind of make it look like my mum worked there because of the issues with work permits.

“I didn’t have a European passport. But we found a loophole where if your parents are working in the country they can’t refuse you to play, you just can’t play in any games where they’re taking gate receipts. So I could play all the junior football, including reserve team football, as long as they weren’t charging.

“So that’s kind of how I stayed in England but once I turned 18 that stopped it dead in its tracks.”

Patterson-Sewell return to Australia and played in the Brisbane Premier League. But in 2007 he decided to chance his arm across the pond and joined second-division club Cleveland City Stars, before linking with the MLS’s New York Red Bulls.

“I started in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) system,” he said.

“I think I was the youngest goalkeeper playing professional football at that time in the country. It was with a team in Cleveland, it was a very bare bones club but every good people running it. We played well that season, and from there that’s when the Red Bulls signed me.”

The goalkeeper bounced around at different clubs in America before the chance to go to Europe and play in Portugal arose.

“I got some games behind me where people would actually take me seriously,” he said.

“So that’s when I went across to Portugal, I had an offer to go to Atletico CP, which at the time had just got promoted from the third league to the second league. I went into it blindly, I remember I got off the plane and had no idea what I’d just signed up for.

“But it was the best thing I ever did, it was fantastic.”

Patterson-Sewell played 29 matches during the 2011-2012 season and impressed significanrly in the Liga de Honra that he earned a move to top flight outfit Vitoria de Setubal the following season.

“Nobody expected anything from Atletico and then for the first half of the season were on top of the league,” he said.

“And then a number of clubs starting to taking notice of us. We had a good squad, but the president wanted to fight the coach for no reason so then it kind of went downhill from there. That coach is now the assistant manager at Benfica.

“I went to Setubal, I signed a two-year deal there. I had a number of options at that time, some in the second league. But I had an opportunity to go to the Primeira Liga and I thought I’m not going to pass that up. So I went there and it started off OK.”

It was during the 2012-2013 campaign that the young keeper came to the attention of the Socceroos. Tony Franken, then Australia’s goalkeeping coach, flew to Portugal to watch Patterson-Sewell play and the former Toowoomba Raider was linked to a potential national team call-up.

But luck did not go Patterson-Sewell’s way.

“I was playing games and that was when the Socceroos got in touch, just before a squad was announced,” he said.

“And they watched, and then basically I had a run-in with the manager. He signed a player out of nowhere. He just put me on the bench right before the Socceroos basically said, and that was Ange’s policy, if you’re playing we can bring you in. It was the game against Romania in Spain.

“The manager dropped me for this lad right before the Socceroos were going to make the announcement. And I didn’t get called in – and rightly so as if you’re playing, you get picked, if you’re not you don’t.

“So I lost my spot there for really no reason, it was political. So I asked the manager what the story was and he didn’t like that. So from that point forward we had our differences.

“I got my spot back mid-way through the season, I had three games in a row and then he took me out again. At that point it was pretty clear either I wasn’t his signing or his cup of tea, which was fine. So at the end of the year I made it clear to the club that I had the opportunity I wanted to move on.

“And then finally the coach I had at Atletico went to Gil Vicente and signed me there on a two-year deal. I took a pay cut and went there.”

However, game time at Gil Vicente proved elusive and he returned to America for a brief stint at North American Soccer League club Rayo Oklahoma City. But off-field problems plagued the expansion side and after just six months Patterson-Sewell came back to Portugal.

“It was not planned by any means,” he admitted.

“I was in-between agents and I had some offers in Portugal, my agent in the team advised me not to take them as he had something else. And then time was running out and I realised he had nothing sufficient, so I took the opportunity to come back to America because my wife was pregnant.

"I did six months there. After that we realised it wasn’t probably where we wanted to be, the club was going through a lot of a structural issues. It was a little bit of a free-for-all there. So I went back to Portugal again and that was a really good experience at Farense. It was a fantastic club.”

In 2017 Patterson-Sewell returned to the United States and after catching the eye at Jackonsville Armada, he signed with Toronto FC. He had been on the books of the Canadian side until the end of 2019.

The 33-year-old has had a nomadic existence in football, in search of opportunities and regular game time, but has no regrets on where the beautiful game has taken him.

“People might look at my history and say why is this lad going to a different club every 12 months,” he said.

“It’s nothing to do necessarily with being in a bad spot, I could have probably played and stayed at certain places and be happy at that level. But I guess the inner competitor in me says you want to play at the highest level you can go, sometimes you just get a spot and the manager chooses a different player and it is what it is.

“But I would much rather be there mixing it with the big boys than playing in a second or third tier league somewhere, that’s always been my goal. Off the back of nearly early move – don’t get me wrong, I’ve made one or two mistakes along the way – but the whole thought process has never been about money per se.

“It’s been about what is the highest level I could go and play at. Goalkeeping can be tricky as when you’re younger, all the clubs want an experienced keeper. Then you get to 25, 26 and they say how many games have you played?

“Well I haven’t really played that many as when I was 22, 23, 45 they wanted an older bloke. Now that I’m older, and now you’re saying you want someone with more games. It’s a catch-22.

“It’s one of those where you have to go and get games somewhere and people will start talking. That’s how I tried to mix the two, that was the thought process back then.”

Away from playing, Patterson-Sewell has set up his own academy in Tennessee. Focused on player development, the keeper has enjoyed coaching with kids.

“When I was in Portugal, Nashville was where I came back to in the off-season,” he said.

“I realised in the area in America there’s super, super good athletes, the kids can bench press and run all day and do all the things you want to do athletically. But technically we were, and are, miles behind what the people in Europe are.

“I started doing some coaching and I enjoyed it. So we started it up an academy and now coach around 200 kids a week. We’re growing it every year.”

After nearly a decade in American soccer, Patterson-Sewell has seen first hand the rise and rise of the sport in the United States. He believes Australia and the A-League should take note.

“When I first entered the league in 2008 we were still playing on NFL fields, with lines everywhere and nobody owned the stadiums, everyone was leasing,” he admitted.

“Training grounds were bang average. That was where it was in 2008… But now, credit to the league and owners for growing it, but it’s a big-time league. It’s no joke.

“When I was in Toronto there was sold-out stadiums…. It’s not mickey mouse, its top-level stuff. The crowds are big, the money going into the infrastructure is big, stadiums are being built and clubs have to own their own stadiums, they wont get a license otherwise. There’s a lot of big steps forward.

“It’s no longer this retirement league. But America should be somewhere where Aussies are looking. They’ve got everything here.”

Source SBS The World Game