Young Australian duo Corey Cuelho and Kody Maude are blazing a trail in Lithuania and are on a mission to get FC Viliniaus Vytis promoted into the country’s top flight.
With a handful of games left in the 2020 season, the Vyčiai are bidding to break out of the second division and into the A Lyga. At the heart of the club’s push is two Sydneysiders, midfielder Cuelho and right back Maude.
Twenty-year-old Cuelho is a former Marconi Stallions junior who has been in Lithuania for more than a year. He has been already been involved in one promotion campaign with FC Viliniaus Vytis and is hoping this one is second time lucky.
“We were ninth in the league when I first arrived and me and three other boys came, in July, and after that went 13 games unbeaten,” Cuelho told The World Game.
“We went from ninth to second, which was a really big jump. We did very well. We got promoted but unfortunately in the new year we had an issue with the federation and financial troubles.
“We didn’t have enough money to go to the first league, so this year we were stuck in the second league and again we went a full year unbeaten. There’s five games left and we’re coming fifth at the moment.
“This year the top four is promotion so we’re just trying to push for that promotion. This year because of the virus the top eight teams from the first round go into a pool, and the bottom eight teams go into a pool.
“And the top eight teams fight for promotion, and the bottom eight fight for promotion. The next few weeks are massive for the club and myself.”
Cuelho, who grew up in Sydney’s Baulkham Hills, has made a home for himself in the Baltic nation of just under three million people.
“Lithuania is a beautiful country, [but] it’s very different to Australia,” he said.
“Coming from Australia not many people have heard of Lithuania. There’s not much to do there so keeps me focused. The club itself is a brilliant club.
“The standard of football was surprising to me. My first game when I first got here I was under the impression that it was going to be very easy.
“When I got here I was shocked. The levels of quality, especially at the top of the table, it’s a strong level.”
Cuehlo was joined at FC Vilinaus Vytis earlier this year by fellow Aussie Maude. The 23-year-old spent time in the NPL with Rockdale City, Bankstown City, Sutherland Sharks and Coniston FC before his move to Lithuania.
“He came this year,” Cuelho explained.
“He’s my roommate. It’s great. Hearing another Aussie voice is great. It’s very good to have him by my side.”
Cuelho was coached by the Trifiro brothers at Seven Hills United as a youngster and came through Football NSW’s Project 22. He then spent several years at Marconi under the eye of Socceroo great Paul Okon.
“I learnt so much through Paul,” the midfielder said.
“I spent six years at Marconi. Then I went to England, I moved over when I was 16.”
Cuelho trialed with several English clubs, including Leeds United, Oldham Athletic and Liverpool, before returning to Australia. Last year he had a brief spell in the Singapore Premier League with Geyland International before he landed in the former Soviet republic.
“After Singapore I came home and one of my mates came over from England,” the 20-year-old said.
“He put me in touch with his agent and he had an opportunity for me in Lithuania. I always wanted to play in Europe, as an Australian you always want to play in Europe. So I jumped at the opportunity and here we are now.”
With two years of his contract left, Cuelho is relishing his time in the Baltic state. But the midfielder’s European adventure is only just beginning and he has ambitions for more.
“I want to play in Spain,” he said.
“My dad is from Uruguay so I grew up with a South American and Spanish vibe. And playing in the Australian national team has always been the dream. If I could do that one day it would be a dream come true.”