Life in the city can take anyone by surprise. Like many freshmen, Stephen Bristow has had a difficult time getting used to the new atmosphere of North Philadelphia. But when Bristow, who hails from New Castle, England, joins his teammates on the soccer field in Ambler, he feels right at home.
While Bristow has had no trouble finding the back of the net, he has some trouble keeping up with the American lingo. Worldwide, America is the only country that refers to the sport as soccer instead of football. Bristow has caught himself referring to it as the latter.
“I tell people that I play for the football team and they say ‘hey, you don’t look big enough’,” he said.
At 5-10 and 160 pounds, Bristow doesn’t exactly look huge on the soccer field either.
Bristow has been a pleasant surprise for the Owls this season. While leading the team with four goals and 11 points, Bristow has been a menace to opposing defenses with his fast paced European style of play.
“We didn’t have a guy with his pace, and that’s what we wanted to get during the offseason,” coach David MacWilliams said. “He allows us to play the ball over the top so teams can’t stay up on us. He really has the ability to spread teams out.”
Bristow, who most recently played for Livingston Youth Academy in Scotland, was scouted in the offseason by Owls’ assistant coach Dave Simpson. After receiving an offer, Bristow decided Temple was the right choice.
Temple was the only U.S. school to contact Bristow. Had he decided to stay in Europe, he would have been searching for a job in the professional ranks.
Although the decision to cross the Atlantic was difficult, Bristow knows he made the right move.
“I’d say this has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career, but this has been one of the better [choices].”
So far Bristow has had to adjust to a different style of play than what he is used to back home. In Scotland, he played more of a wide-open style, using the long ball to spring players to the net. In America, he has had to learn to use his teammates in a more pass-oriented game.
But the biggest difference in styles is the physicality. Because more player-to-player contact is allowed overseas, it’s been difficult for Bristow to stay out of trouble on the field.
“Unfortunately, he has been a little too physical,” MacWilliams said. “That is the part that I am not happy with and it’s the part of his game that he is going to have to change.”
Bristow’s rough play has come at a cost. Because of an accumulation of yellow and red cards, he will be forced to sit out a couple games in the coming week.
“I got carded for two really soft tackles,” Bristow said, despite the referees’ opposing opinions. “It was really unfair in my opinion, but it is obviously something that I can’t argue.”
Despite the penalties, there is no denying what Bristow has accomplished on the field in his first season in the states. For the week ending Oct. 3, Bristow was named Philadelphia Soccer Seven co-Player of the Week and Atlantic Ten Conference co-Rookie of the Week.
“He brings a certain fire to the team that everybody responds well to,” senior goalkeeper Patrick Hannigan said. “He’s a finisher. He scores goals for us and gets good opportunities that gives the rest of the team a better outlook on the game.”
As long as he continues to produce, size will never be an issue.
Jonathan Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org