Rugova working his way up the ladder

Rugova working his way up the ladder

Article Written by Travis Clark

Published: October 17, 2018

This summer, there was a small exodus of MLS Academy products heading to Europe.

Part of that contingent was Sporting KC Academy and Swope Park Rangers forward Max Rugova, joining German club FC Nurnberg’s U19 setup in July.

Rugova’s move perhaps came under the radar to an extent.

Others, like Sebastian Soto (Hannover), Chris Gloster (Hannover) and Zyen Jones (Schalke) came with a bit more pomp thanks to their closer ties to various U.S. youth national teams.

Like some of his peers, Sporting KC showed interest in keeping the Kansas native close by. But the ambitious 18-year-old has high hopes and jumped at the chance.

“It was not a very difficult decision,” Rugova told “Of course it’s very hard to move away from family and everything but it has always been my passion to come overseas to one of the best leagues in the world.”

Rugova’s soccer upbringing – his father Edmond played professionally in Kosovo, before moving to the New York Cosmos in 1985 (right before the original North American Soccer League folded) – played a pivotal role. Growing up with the ball at his feet, soccer was a dominant force in his household. His father spent a few years coaching the Kosovo national team from 2006-2009, and as the younger Rugova grew, he dreamed of a pro career.

As he developed and focused his ambitions, Rugova joined the Sporting KC Academy when he turned 13. He scored 14 goals in 27 games during the 2015-16 season, and five in 2016-17. Before moving to Germany this summer, Rugova spent time in 2016 and 2017 training and playing for Swope Park Rangers, getting eight appearances last season.

He gleaned plenty of lessons from his time in the USL.

“It definitely helped me physically, playing against those guys you have to be tough, they will come and tackle you real hard,” Rugova said. “When I do some skills they let me know I shouldn’t mess around, but I still did.”

While Rugova holds a Kosovan passport (he’s a dual citizen that was born in the United States), he couldn’t move until her turned 18 – Kosovo is not part of the European Union. A trial with Nurnburg eventually cracked the door open, and he walked through it in the summer, when he signed his contract.

So far, he’s adjusted to the demands of the day-in, day-out grind of a European club.

“It elevates your game every day you are in training,” Rugova said. You have to elevate it, or else they won’t [keep] you especially if you’re coming from another country. They’re not going to bring you unless they see you have something special. That’s definitely been a huge difference.”

The move to Europe also shifts him closer to his father’s roots. As a dual national, Rugova can represent either the United States or Kosova. While he earned a call-up to a U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team camp in 2016, he’s started to earn regular call-ups to the Kosovo Under-19 team. Last week, he started and played 90 minutes for Kosovo in a U19 European championship qualifier against Austria, and started in a 4-1 loss on Tuesday to Slovenia.

His international future isn’t something that dominates his mindset too much.

“Whenever you get a call into a national team it is an honor, no matter what country it is,” Rugova said. “But what you can control is on the field, the rest you’ve got to leave it up to the bosses.”

International ambitions aside, Rugova is focused on taking care of business at club level in the near term.

“My first goal is to prove myself at the U19 Bundesliga level and play some great games, maybe get some games with the reserve team, see what the coaches think,” he said. “They know the path best, I’m sure they have a plan for me. I got to do my best every day, play, have fun and hopefully get to the first team, have some trainings and hopefully that goes well and get a shot this year or next year.”