Gina Lewandowski concluded a stellar college career at Lehigh University and, in the absence of a pro league stateside, set her sights abroad. She landed at FFC Frankfurt of the Frauen-Bundesliga; one of the best women’s club teams in the world. She has since become a fixture in the Frankfurt backline. Frankfurt are set to round up an excellent 2010-11 season with a trophy or two, and have already qualified for the 2011-12 UEFA Women’s Champions League.
Lewandowski was kind enough to talk about how she ended up in Germany, adjusting to a foreign culture and her interest in joining WPS this season.
AWK: How did you wind up playing in Germany, and with FFC Frankfurt in particular?
GL: After graduating from college in 2007, I wanted to continue playing soccer and at that time, the U.S. did not have a professional league. I have relatives in Germany that live close to Frankfurt so I contacted them to see if it was possible to play there and if they could help me find a team. Luckily, there was a team close to them in Frankfurt, and we managed to get a tryout with the team.
AWK: How much did having family in Germany factor into your decision to ply your trade overseas? Did that help with your transition to life in a foreign land?
GL: Having relatives there gave me the opportunity to explore playing soccer in a foreign country, specifically Germany. I wanted to give it a shot since I would have some support living there. They helped a lot in my transition since they have been living here for a while now and know the in’s and out’s of the language and the culture.
AWK: How long was it before you felt fully adjusted to life in Germany? What was the most difficult part of acclimating in the country?
GL: I think it took a little over a year to feel comfortable with the language. I took an intensive language course once I arrived so I could quickly learn the language. I still struggle at times but the team is patient and supportive and we just end up laughing a lot with the language barrier. Most people in Germany know some English as well so I was lucky in the beginning that I could speak English with the some of the girls. The language was probably the hardest part to adjust to since it’s not the easiest language to learn. My German is far from perfect but I manage to get by on the important things.
AWK: Would your experience have been different had you not had fellow American Ali Krieger with you along the way?
GL: Especially during the first year here, it was nice to have a fellow American on the team. Having each other made the transition for us both a bit easier since we could relate on a lot of issues and support each other. It was also nice to speak English with someone who could fully understand you and your jokes.
AWK: What is the biggest stylistic difference between the soccer you were used to playing in the Patriot League and the soccer you play in the Frauen-Bundesliga?
GL: I find the soccer in Germany to be a lot more technical than what I was used to. The pace of the ball moves a lot quicker and our touches on the ball are limited. They also don’t focus as much on strength training as college soccer does.
AWK: Was it intimidating playing alongside the likes of Birgit Prinz, Conny Pohlers, and Kerstin Garefrekes?
GL: At the beginning, it was a bit intimidating with the team, especially being in a new country, with a new language, and in a new environment. I had a lot of respect for the girls on the team once I came to Germany and realized they would be my teammates. The players were all very nice though and also very encouraging. I have gotten to know them better and they are fun people and good teammates.
AWK: You’ve shifted from being a goal-scorer in college to being a starting center back. Was that a natural transition?
GL: Coming into Frankfurt, I actually tried out as a left back. During the first month, I guess they saw more of a fit for me in the center back position. Although I never played center back until I got to Germany, I think playing center midfield in college helped my transition to the center back a lot easier. They are both in the center of the field so I was able to use a lot of what I already knew in the center back position. Playing in the defense you have to have a bit of a different mentality and be safer in your decision making but it was a position that I enjoyed learning. The other center back at the time was also very helpful and encouraging.
AWK: What would you tell an American who is considering playing abroad? Any advice?
GL: I would say do it. It is a great experience; not only with soccer but you have the opportunity to learn a completely new culture and language. Being in Europe, you are exposed to many different cultures and are able to travel a lot and do some things you couldn’t do in the U.S. I have grown so much as a player and individual and am grateful for the opportunity. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
AWK: With the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup just months away, what’s the atmosphere surrounding it like in Germany?
GL: The atmosphere is great. There is a lot of advertising and hype going on. I can imagine that once the World Cup starts, it’s going to be a great event to be a part of.
AWK: Frankfurt is trying to win its first league title since you arrived at the club in 2007. What’s this season been like for you?
GL: As a team we’ve been fighting since day one to win back the league title. We’ve had some unlucky losses throughout the season but are still hoping to be on top at the end.
AWK: You’ve started nearly every game for Frankfurt this season. How has this season compared to ones previous from a player perspective?
GL: This season we are playing better, finishing our chances more, and just connecting better. Compared to the last couple of years, this season we have scored a lot more goals and allowed a lot less.
AWK: Would you be interested in returning to the U.S. and playing in WPS after the season is over?
GL: I am very interested in playing in the WPS this coming season and hope it works out.
AWK: What do you hope to be doing over the next five years?
GL: I would like to continue playing soccer as long as it’s enjoyable and my body holds up. I would also like to go back to school at some point in the near future.
AWK: What has been your fondest memory playing in Germany thus far?
I would say winning the UEFA cup (now called the Champions League), German Cup, and Bundesliga in my first season,’07-’08. It was the first time I ever won a championship in soccer so it was a great memory to have, especially it being overseas in another country.
Thanks again to Gina. Frankfurt will take on Bayern Munich in the final Frauen-Bundesliga match of the season this Sunday. The team will have another chance at silverware when they face Turbine Potsdam in the DFB-Pokal Cup on Friday, March 25.