Two games doesn’t make me an expert. However, now that I’ve notched time with Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC, I do have a taste of the Swedish style of play and the Damallsvenskan (Swedish women’s league). Here are some observations of specific aspects of playing here that I love:
1. It’s awesome how many Americans are now playing for Swedish teams! There are four of us on my team alone. In my first game, it was great to see Lori Chalupny, who plays for AIK (but it wasn’t so great to see her causing havoc for us all over the field). On Wednesday, we face Ali Riley and Malmö in the Swedish Cup semifinal. We will face Kristianstad again, where Becky Edwards plays. On television the other night I caught the end of Tyresö playing Vittsjö, which is home to Kendall Fletcher, Danesha Adams, and Brittani Bock. And these are just some of the Americans sprinkled throughout the Damallsvenskan.
2. The goalkeepers, for the most part, play out of the back. Maybe only two or three times in our most recent game did our goalkeeper distribute long from her hands or a goal kick. I LOVE this. We start with possession of the ball every play and are able to build from the back, through the midfield, before going forward. Moreover, our goalkeeper, Kristin Hammarström, is phenomenal at distributing with her feet.
3. Some of the rules my team often follows while playing possession encourage great results that transfer into the games. If there are two defenders, they always have the aim of not only winning the ball, but connecting a pass with one another once they’ve done so. This way, the focus isn’t just on disrupting the play and kicking the ball out, but winning clean possession. Secondly, many times not only the player who makes a mistake, but the player who passed it to her, both become defenders. This emphasizes the importance and responsibility of setting your teammate up for success, rather than simply being concerned with getting the ball to another player. I can see these habits ingrained in the team’s style.
4. Following every game, an M.V.P. is chosen from each team and presented with flowers. I’m not sure who chooses the players to award, but it is not always someone who has scored goals or done something obviously spectacular. I can tell that the selections come from a broader understanding of who has had the best and most complete 90 minutes in her position.
5. From the end of 2009 until late 2011, I spent a lot of time in training camps being coached by Pia Sundhage, who was also a top Swedish player. During that time, I learned some wonderful things about the sport and the art of center midfield. At times, the progress I was making as a player—both mentally and physically—was overshadowed by the frustration I felt because I wasn’t able to break into Pia’s vision for the United States national women’s team. I’ve spent most of this past year observing the team from afar and dealing with my disappointment. But it dawned on me the other day in training that now I am finally seeing many things I learned from Pia being translated into my game. I spent hundreds of hours in camps thinking about and honing the elements of the game that Pia emphasized: changing the point of attack, feeling the rhythm of the game, changing one’s mind on the ball, making certain types of runs, dictating the tempo. She has a wonderful philosophy and view of the game. However, I was so focused on my lack of opportunity to show how I was learning and improving that I didn’t recognize the strides I was making as a player. Now I can finally incorporate these elements into my game. And it’s a wonderful feeling when certain areas from training finally “click.”
I am thousands of miles from the people I love, living in a foreign city, playing a sport I could be playing in other places in the world. On occasion I think: What am I doing here? Sometimes a question like that can be hard to answer. Not this time. For the first time in some years, I feel that I am playing in an environment where I am understood as a player. And that feeling alone is reason enough to be here.