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Branden Stelmak is the son of Ron Stelmak (an Arborist) and Cindy Shearey-Stelmak (a School Teacher). Branden has one older brother, Dustin, and one older sister, Ashley. Dustin, the oldest sibling, started playing Football/Soccer at the age six. Ashley followed her older brother by playing the sport at the age five. Dustin and Ashley are separate by two years and Branden is four years younger than Ashley.
Branden started playing Football/Soccer since he started walking. From day one, he always looked up to his brother and sister. Branden wanted to do everything his siblings did. At the age four, Branden joined the smurf team within the local community. Branden proved he had a few more years of experience even at the age four! From then on, Branden kept stats of his own teams year after year. He knew how and where to set the standard at such a young age to push himself to be a better Football/Soccer player. At the age five, Branden was playing in a league where the average age was ten. After playing two years in this league with Internationals SC, Branden found himself a better player despite having unsuccessful seasons.
Unfortunately, Branden’s life took a turn for the worse. At the age seven, Branden was diagnosed with Leukemia, approximately one month before his eighth birthday. During these hard times, the Stelmak family wanted to keep Football/Soccer a part of their every day lives. So, Dustin and Ashley continued to play Football/Soccer while Branden remained sidelined. Branden struggled watching his teammates perform while he was fighting a different battle. The humble Stelmak family became so grateful for all the love and support they received from the Football/Soccer community. This support lifted Branden’s spirits and he started to make a slow return to the pitch. In order for Branden to be an effective Football/Soccer player on the pitch, he returned to the Internationals SC as the new goal keeper. Whatever it took to get Branden back on the field, Branden did!
When Branden went through remission, he remained loyal to the International SC. He eventually became a forward on this highly competitive team. With the International SC, Branden found himself struggling from year to year. He started to play several different positions to find his way onto the pitch. What Branden learned the most while battling childhood cancer, was to take advantage of every opportunity that became available. That even meant joining a rival club in the summers when Branden’s former club, Internationals SC, did not participate in other leagues. The rival club was known as the Cleveland Force Juniors, who eventually became the Cleveland Soccer Academy. During this time, Branden participated in Super-Y League and Ohio Olympic Development Programs. It was mentally challenging for him to seek this opportunity but it was an obstacle that Branden wanted to overcome. He was able to succeed in his final years by being selected to the All-Super-Y League North American Finals Team in 2006.
In the fall of 2003, Branden joined Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School’s soccer team. After being denied first team status his first year, Branden trained mentally and physically to be the best the following year. At the beginning of his second year, he entered the starting line-up on the first team. Branden felt the pressure and began to struggle by not producing as a forward. The next year, he trained even harder! On Sundays, Branden would go to the local Football/Soccer facility and play for the next four to six hours. He felt that the best way to improve was to play in as many games that he could. This allowed Branden to get use to the different pressures, different game scenarios, and constantly playing with unfamiliar players. Playing with unfamiliar players, it allowed Branden to focus on making the players around him better. With his work rate, he strives to be the best in every game then and now! This method of training proved to be successful for Branden during his third season for his high school team. Branden led his public high school team to the State Semi-finals for the first time in over a decade. This is where their undefeated season unfortunately came to an end. On a different note, Branden’s final year at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School was individually successful. He earned the prestigious honors of being selected a NSCAA/adidas All-American, Northeast Ohio Division I Player of the Year, Conference Player of the Year, first team All-Ohio, and first team NSCAA/adidas All-Midwest as a senior. He was also named a Northeast Ohio Prime-Time Player by Rise Magazine. Branden scored 37 goals and added 29 assists during prep career at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School.
Dustin, Branden’s brother, played four years for John Carroll University men’s soccer team and their sister, Ashley, played three years for the Duquesne women’s soccer team before exiting by early graduation. Like many seniors in high school, Branden had a tough time deciding what was the best college for him. When the decision was made, Branden joined the University of Cincinnati.
At the University of Cincinnati, Branden contributed all fours years on the Football/Soccer pitch. Throughout the years, Branden developed into the alone striker role in a 4-5-1 Football/Soccer tactic. It wasn’t until Branden’s senior year of college when the Bearcats finally found success. The Cincinnati Bearcats were able to advanced to the Big East Semi-final for the first time in school history. Unfortunately, they were knocked out of the tournament by Providence Friars in November, 2010. Branden did find some individual success during his time at Cincinnati (accomplishments noted in “Career” tab). Along with with success on the field, Branden had even more success off the field. He earned two majors in the Business field of study; Operations Management and Marketing. He led various on-campus organizations and was selected to be part of Sigma Sigma; an all-men’s leadership fraternity.
In addition to these four years, it wasn’t until the summers when Branden joined the Cincinnati Kings. The Cincinnati Kings are a team that college soccer players were able to participate with, in the summers, when school was not in session. This is where Branden really started to enjoy his Football/Soccer is with the Kings, who was coached by Roby Stahl. Although the Kings did not have any playoff success, Branden, along with other teammates, found individual success in arguably one of the better PDL (Premier Development Leagues) conferences in the country (accomplishments noted in “Career” tab also!).
Not too long ago, Branden has had a short spell with the Cincinnati Kings Professional Indoor Soccer team. In the winter of 2010-2011, Branden was a mid-season signing after his duties at the University of Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Kings had an outstanding season but in the end, they still fell short without winning one of the three championships available. In the winter of 2011-2012, Branden found himself training with the Cincinnati Kings indoor team after his departure with the West Connecticut Travelers.
In the fall of 2011, Branden was on the move after the Cincinnati Kings summer season to Danbury, Connecticut. Branden joined the West Connecticut Travelers for their 2011-2012 CSL season (Connecticut Soccer League). After seven games with the West Connecticut Travelers, Branden was approached to go on trial in the eastern states of Germany. On November 11th, Branden took that opportunity in hopes of training with clubs in Germany.
The reason why Branden only had one month to preform was that the teams in Germany went on winter break. Winter break existed due to the weather conditions that Germany could encounter. Also during this one month winter break, teams in Germany participate in smaller indoor tournaments depending on their preference (some indoor football/soccer, others futsal tournaments).
After one week passed, Branden was approached by Hallescher FC. Branden had other plans to continue training with different clubs in case there was a better offer elsewhere. However, he also felt that this club provided a great training system. Hallescher FC has a first team in the fourth league and a second team in the sixth league. Branden had the opportunity to see time on the pitch with both teams for Hallescher FC. He made the decision to stay in Halle (the city’s name and it’s located outside of Leipzig). for the remainder of his visit. After a contract was proposed, Branden returned back to America for the holidays with his family. At the end of January, Branden was back on the move to Halle. With half the season left to play, Branden is anxious to help both teams get promoted! Branden found success in the exhibition games with Hallescher FC II. He was placed back into the midfield where he get the ball more often and control the game. After weeks and weeks of training, Branden was waiting on his player pass approval back in the United States.Branden then shared, “my most exciting days were when I had 3 practices in a day! I would train from 10-12, 2-4 with the first team and 6-8 with the second team. I enjoyed every second of it and I was excelling at the top of my game. The weekends were were too boring as I wanted to train but everyone else wanted to rest.” Unfortunately, Branden’s time in Germany came to an end with player pass delays and visa problems.
There was no time for a break. Branden was right back at it playing for his fifth year with the Cincinnati Kings PDL team under coach Roby Stahl. The team finished their season strong ending up fourth in the league. Branden found individual success has he was named to the PDL All-Conference team. Football didn’t stop there either. After the Cincinnati Kings season finished, Branden rejoined two local teams in Cleveland. He finished out the summer season in the Lake Erie League with Karadjordje Soccer Club. He continued and joined the North Coast League with Concordia Soccer Club halfway through their season. They went on to win their sixth championship in their history. In 2012, they won their fourth championship in a row!
As Branden was finishing up just yet another season, he was preparing to make a return to the Cincinnati Kings Professional Indoor Soccer team. With aspirations to return to Europe, he knew that an entire indoor season may not be probable. Branden found this opportunity extremely challenging. He never really seemed to take his game to another level.
Branden explained, “I had countless hours of driving back and forth from Cleveland to Cincinnati. I had a life of friends and soccer in Cincinnati, I had a life of family and work in Cleveland, and I am trying to train outdoors for when the opportunity approached to go back to Europe. Things were not working and the harder I tried to be the best one thing at a time, the others suffered more than I could fight to get back. This was an extremely hard time in my life after coming off such happiness and momentum from all my success in 2012. I had to make sacrifices that I still think about today, not because I regret them but that fact that it has mad me stronger and has placed me where I am today.”
Branden stepped away from the Cincinnati Kings indoor team early in 2013. It was unfamiliar decision that he had to make. According to Branden, it was a time to be with his family and to focus on the next stage of his life; another chance in Europe.
It was a last minute decision for Branden to step away from his family and friends for another chance at Europe. Sadness, peer pressures, troubles, and tough times filled Branden’s unfocused head. After all, Branden made the decision to pack his bags and travel to Hungary to try for the best team in Hungary. He was put in contact with a man overseas who currently lives in Gyor. He had connections to Gyor ETO but was not a manager. Branden made the long journey for just one team. He arrived in Budapest and took a train to Gyor to prepare for the next few days. Monday approached, Branden and the man he stayed with, went to the train grounds. The day Branden showed up at the front door to ETO Park, the first team just left to train abroad in better climate. With the lack of communication, Branden was without a team and not even chance.
The rest of the week Branden ran through the village streets to maintain fitness. He would always watch football on the television in hopes that he could trap the form and technique of players into his mind because Branden went days without touching a ball. Branden first trained with Nyul. A smaller suburb of Gyor, a fourth tier team, Branden was sharp from the start in -5 degrees Celsius. After a few days and a local indoor tournament, Branden moved to the third division. Mosonmagyarovar offered a winning team and the opportunity to get promoted to the second league. A work visa was an important resource for Branden to stay in Hungary. Branden even tried the third division in Slovakia for three days. However, he pulled himself out of the trial because the new coach struggled to get a hold of his team. Meanwhile, Branden tried his luck in the second division with Tatabayna. After one week there, the reviews were good but the signing period finished. Time eventually became a factor. Branden stepped away from Tatabayna and went back to Mosonmagyarovar where he had problems with his translator and host. Branden was introduced to a former Hungarian professional player who was willing to help. One problem kept them from meeting sooner. The former player spoke neither German or English. The problem was resolved when we would meet, we Skyped his friends in Romania who can translate to me. “If you want something bad enough, you can find a way to make it yours,” Branden commented. With the help from Branden’s new friend, Branden signed with Mosonmagyarovar.
Branden spent five months with Mosonmagarovar. His team finished third in the league and won the regional cup. “Playing football in Mosonmagyarovar set me back a little. The trainings were effortless and the commitment lack quality. I was hoping to influence and provide the energy to help carry the pressure to the finish at the top of the leauge. Unfortunately, we were not ready as a team to finish the season strong. However, I owe it to the fans and the president for giving me the opportunity and believing in my ability. I wish that success follows this club in the future.” In June 2013, Branden signed a professional contract with Siofok in the second league here in Hungary. “A new league, new team, new city, new friends, new challenges … This is what I have trained for all my life. It’s not easy but the success that comes my way is much more enjoyable.”
After a mediocre start at Branden’s new club, he found it hard to find a consistent life in the city. A city that thrives on tourists in the summer because of it’s close proximity to one the the largest lakes in Europe. Branden’s troubles continued down a downward spiral after a good run in form. Branden’s life outside of football started to blossom. Then, out of no where, Branden suffered a terrifying injury; a torn ACL. After going to four different knee specialist and a few trainings later, there was no confirmation on a completely torn ACL that would need surgery. Branden would grind through trainings and feel nothing but pain. “I would bike ride five miles to the training facility just to shrink the swelling in my knee,” claimed Branden. With the language barrier, struggling to get situated in a new city and now a serious injury, Branden needed to formulate a plan. After several meetings with the coaching staff, Branden was able to go back to the states for the surgery and the intense therapy that would follow.
The surgery was a success but the months of therapy awaited. Branden explained “everything happened so fast and picking up and moving back home was no easy task. I definitely left another life overseas that would eventually keep me motivated to return to.” Three days a week for three hours, Branden trained closely with his therapist in the early hours in the morning. His training didn’t stop there, he trained three more hours every day either with friends or at his local gym. Hard work, motivation and dedication is what Branden believed that will get him healthy. After a long 5 months, Branden started playing again. A little sooner than most doctors would agree with, but Branden needed to know where he need to improve. Branden was able to lead his team, that he was training with in the states, to win the five-a-side championship. “I tried wearing a brace, but it limited me as it should. That’s when I mentally noted that nothing was going to stop me getting back to the top. I went from not being able to run in the first match to scoring 4 goals in the championship game in less than one month. Mentally I was prepared for every obstacle that was thrown my way,” noted Branden. It wasn’t long after the championship match that Branden found himself on a plane back to Hungary.
Branden finished the season with his club. Not receiving any action and only trying to get fit again. After the season, Branden moved to Budapest to live the city life. Branden and his former club decided to part ways. After some time training back in the states, Branden spent one month in Hamburg, Germany training. Branden’s agent and teams were the wrong fit for him at that time.
This left Branden back in the states for 2015.
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