POTSDAM, Germany — Women’s soccer in the United States has always been at the top of the game. The most recent Women’s World Cup, however, showed that the women’s game is developing strong teams all over the world.
As an aspiring member of future World Cup and Olympic teams and advocate for the women’s game in general, it’s been interesting for me to see what soccer looks like across Europe. In a lot of ways, playing for Rossiyanka of Russia has been an information-gathering experience. I’m on a Russian team with French coaches, playing with other Americans, Brazilians, a Swede and South African. We have already played against Spanish and French clubs and we will face the German team, Potsdam, in Champions League.
Our time training in Barcelona, Spain, gave me insight into the coaching staff’s style and expectations, and also how my teammates play and what makes them special. We played against San Gabriel, a Spanish team currently in the middle of the first division, and won, 2-1. Then we traveled to France to play Montpellier (second place in France) and beat it, 1-0. We also have had friendlies against two other French teams (St. Etienne and Nord Allier).
I am an analytical person and player, so these experiences have provided me with more than only the opportunity to lace up my cleats and compete with and against women who speak another language. I’ve noticed a lot of differences between playing and training philosophies in the U.S. and in other countries.
I would like to think that I, and everyone reading this, have enough respect for the women’s game to acknowledge the variety of talents and expertise that exist throughout the world and realize that my commentary is a generalization.
In the U.S., we are taught to train and play at high intensity, at times sacrificing quality for quantity and intensity of work. I was shocked at how slow the game in Europe seemed at first. I thought, “Wow, these women are missing something.” But then I realized, they aren’t missing anything, they’re just approaching the puzzle from another point of view. It was especially apparent in Spain that the players are taught to play at a pace that ensures a large percentage of success in performing skills and techniques. If this means slowing the game down, so be it. It’s all about what is emphasized and encouraged.
Another difference I have noticed is a tactical one, based on the physical and technical makeup of the players. In the U.S., we have a large number of very athletic, talented individual players. We breed great 1v1 attacking and defending by encouraging those athletic qualities. In Europe, I have seen far fewer players with that type of skill-set. Instead, it is obvious players are encouraged to cooperate to find success, as opposed to the “do it yourself” attitude. This encourages a level of sophistication that I feel is sometimes lacking in American soccer. Obviously though, both are very necessary in comprising a great team.
I think that the countries that rise to the top of the women’s game in coming years will have to encompass all of these attributes at the world-class level. It will no longer be enough to display superior intensity, technical quality, tactical sophistication, or the will to win. In the U.S., we can add a bit of the sophistication and technique that sometimes is impossible to develop when you are always playing on your physical edge. And in Europe, things will inevitably click enough that players can add that physical dimension of “going all out” to a greater degree.
For several years, international stars went and played in Women’s Professional Soccer and took home a lot of insight into American soccer. Now, it’s my turn to go elsewhere and hopefully return home with ideas and tools to make myself and my country even better.
We are in Germany to play against Potsdam in the first leg of the quarterfinal round of Champions League on Wednesday. Then we will face them at home in Russia on March 21. I’m excited and nervous for Rossiyanka to finally put our preparation to the test! And I will continue to add to my library of soccer knowledge and experience.