This week, we look at half of the twelve teams that advanced from last week's UEFA Women's Champions League Qualifiers, along with an interview with American forward Krystyna Freda, who scored both goals in a crucial 2-0 win over ZFK Minsk as Somatio Barcelona FA of Cyprus were the only one of eight WCL debutants to advance from the 40 team Qualification Round. We will review the other six teams to advance next week.
2018/19 UEFA Champions League First Round Group Stage Qualifiers
Group 1: Ajax (NED), Thór/KA (ISL)*
Group 2: Somatio Barcelona FA (CYP)
Group 3: Glasgow City (SCO)
Group 4: Slavia Praha (CZE)
Group 5: ŽFK Spartak (SRB)
Group 6: WFC Khakhiv (UKR)
Group 7: BIIK-Kazygurt (KAZ)
Group 8: SFK 2000 Sarajevo (BIH)
Group 9: Gintra Universitetas (LTU, hosts), Honka (FIN)*
Group 10: Avaldsnes (NOR)
*The two runners-up with the best record against the sides first and third in their group
Somatio Barcelona FA of Cyprus won Group 2 with nine imports on their roster for the three games of the 2018-19 Women's Champions League Qualifying Round, including three 2015 Women's World Cup players from the Ivory Coast. Somatio Barcelona defeated ZFK Minsk of Belarus (with both sides entering the match with 6 points) in the last Group 2 match 2-0 on August 13 with both goals coming from American forward Krystyna Freda (25). Freda scored two goals in each match during the Qualification Round, including 2-0 victories over SK Slovan Bratislava of Slovakia and 6-0 against ZNK Olimpija Ljubljana of Slovenia—her six goals top the WCL goal scorers list. TribalFootball.com caught up with Freda this week after their landmark debut week in the WCL—the club has yet to drop a point in their first ever Women's Champions League campaign. For more on the team's other imports on the side (England's Caitlin Mary Hayes also scored a brace against Olimpija Ljubljana, see last week's column: (www.tribalfootball.com/articles/the-week-in-women-s-football-man-city-signs-canadian-international-champions-league-debutants-4244295)
Krystyna Freda left Winthrop University after the 2014 season as the all-time school goal scoring leader. Despite such impressive credentials, she struggled to catch on with a NWSL side: "I went to preseason with the Portland Thorns in 2015, and after camp I went to Finland where I played with Merilappi United. I played in 13 games for them and scored 10 goals. After that, I came back to America and the next season (2016) I went to preseason with Sky Blue FC. I stayed there for a while and then I found about the team New Jersey Copa FC. They were starting in a new league called the UWS and I decided to give it a shot. My first year with the team we won our conference and went to the national championship game, [where they lost 2-1 to Santa Clarita Blue Heat in overtime]." Freda was the top scorer in the league with 15 goals and 3 assists in 10 games and was named at the league's inaugural Player of the Year. The UWS stepped into the void left when the W-League folded after the 2015 season and is now seen by many as the top amateur summer league in the nation. After finishing the season with Copa, she caught on as a training player with the Western New York Flash, which ended up also making the league championship final, defeating the Washington Spirit on penalty kicks. She continued: "I was planning on staying in the U.S. until next season and I was going to go back to the Courage with Paul [head coach Paul Riley], but in February  my agent got an email from Apollon [Cypriot power club]. They had sent him many emails over the years and I kept turning them down because I wanted to play in the NWSL, but this time there was something in me that said 'go', and I did. Four days from finding out they were interested I was on a plane to Cyprus, and it was the best decision I ever made." She played briefly for Apollon from February 2017 to April 2017 and then transferred to Barcelona for the 2017-18 season
Freda talked about the league in Cyprus, having played there for parts of three seasons: "The league [consisting of 10 teams] here is made of up of mostly Cypriot players, as most of the teams don't have the financial backing to bring in players from other countries. However, since I have been here, I have seen many of the teams improve and the women's game has been on the rise, gaining more popularity and more sponsors, so I am hoping that I can help keep it going in an upward direction. The big three teams that are always very close matches are Barcelona, Apollon, and Ayia Napa [where the club Anothosis Famagusta FC plays]. These three teams are the teams that have the money to bring in foreign players, and by default because they are top of the league; the top Cypriot players typically land on these teams as well. The league is in three categories: there is a clear top three, a middle bunch, and then two teams on the bottom who are made of up players who are mostly teenagers. These teams act like funnels, as the younger girls will play on these teams then as they get older, make their way onto other teams in the league. There are many good players in the league from all over the world; Ayia Napa [Anothosis Famagusta FC] has players from Scandinavia and Romania; Apollon has players from Europe [including England with 22-year old forwards Rosella Ayan—who played at Chelsea and at the youth international level—and Ashleigh Bullock, Italy and Greece and America [Canada and Mexico], and we have players from Europe, America, and Africa…. It is great to play with and against players from all over the world, as well as different cultures because it makes you a much more rounded player."
Barcelona's advancement to the Round of 32, where they will play Glasgow City, has to be the biggest shock of the Qualifying Round, to Freda as well: "Honestly, I am still shocked; being as it was our first time ever playing in the UWCL we did not expect to do as well as we did. Our team is only three years old, and many of our players, including myself, have never participated inthe UEFA WCL before, so not only is it a big experience for our club, but for most of our players as well….We are really pushing hard to try to bring up the women's game in Cyprus. Cyprus is small, and if you ask anyone to name a team in Cyprus they can always name Apollon because they were champions for nine years [and made nine consecutive appearances in the WCL, advancing to the Round of 32 on six occasions]. Now, people are starting to know Barcelona and when they find out that we beat Apollon this year [winning the league by 5 points, including a 1-1 home time and 4-0 win away against Apollon] they are getting more interested because they see that they league is more competitive. Our goal is to do well in the Round of 32 and hopefully pass into the Round of 16, something that even Apollon was never able to do."
In terms of her future career Freda said: "At this moment I cannot picture myself playing somewhere else. We all know that players need to grow, and right now I am growing at Barcelona. If something else were to come up, I would have to look at everything on my plate and think hard, because not only is Barcelona my team, it is my home. Even if I were to leave, I would want to come back and finish my career in Cyprus. We are living in a paradise and we get to play soccer for an amazing team."
Freda, around her soccer career, is also a published author. She published a sci-fi novel about the American government called Written in Stone in 2016 (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/608205), the first of four books in a series: "I started on the second book before I came to Cyprus, but have not finished it yet, as my soccer life was my main focus. I am hoping to start writing again after we finish with the Champions League games and to have the second book finished by the end of our season in May. I am also working on a soccer autobiography about my struggles with trying to find a break in the NWSL, where it is hard unless you come from a big school or have a big name. It chronicles my transition from college soccer into the professional world, the struggles, and going to play overseas and finding happiness outside of US soccer, which growing up I didn't even consider a choice."
Krystyna Freda represents a growing group of North Americans who, dissatisfied with opportunities or the pay structure with NWSL teams, are joining clubs abroad in leagues other than England, France, Germany and Sweden and doing well. These players, many without national teams' experience or top 25 college names on their resume, are showing a different way to continue their professional soccer careers. They bring passion, desire and talent and many, like Freda, are substantially impacting their clubs abroad. When they return home to the States, they bring experience of playing abroad in different styles--particularly in a multinational side like Barcelona—with different skill sets. Freda and her surprising club Somatio Barcelona are definitely one to watch this fall as they continue their historical journey on Europe's largest club football stage.
Ajax of the Netherlands had only two imports on its side that won the Qualifying Group 1: defender Line Roddick Denmark Roddick (30)—who played for Denmark in the 2007 WWC in China at age 19, in three UEFA championships, including the 2017 finals in which Denmark were runners-up to the Netherlands—who played at the club level at home, in Sweden with Tyreso and Rosengard, briefly in France with Lyon, and Spain at Barcelona before her move this season to Ajax. Midfielder Ilana Salmi of Finland completes the import duo.
Thor KA of Iceland, also from Group 1 in the Qualifying Stage, advanced by finishing second to Ajax (tied with seven points and goal difference +5 but Ajax scored 6 goals to 5 for Thor) and being one of two second place sides to advance based on results against the first and third place sides in their groups. Thor has a Mexican international trio through the spine of the team: defender Bianca Sierra, midfielder Ariana Calderon (1 goal in the WCL) and forward Stephany Mayor (1 goal in the WCL). They also have two goalkeepers brought in from Europe: Stephanie Bukovec of Croatia and Johanna Henriksson of Sweden, who previously played with Apollon Limassol of Cyprus, at home with Kristianstads in 2017 and with Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky, where she won a NAIA national championship in 2014 and finished runners-up the next season.
Glasgow City FC won Group 3 and has only two imports, both from Eastern Europe: defender Lidija Kulis of Bosnia and Herzegovina—who played in Germany for Potsdam and for a short time on loan to Linkoping in Sweden and spent last season with Cologne in the Frauen Bundesliga—along with Slovenian international forward Lare Ivanusa (21).
SK Slavia Praha of the Czech Republic topped Group 4 and is one of six teams to advance to the round of 32 from Eastern Europe. They have Canadian international defender Kylla Liisa Sjoman, who has played in Scotland, England and with Arizona State University. Defender Diana Bartovicova is from Slovakia while U.S. U-23 international midfielder Morgan Proffitt played at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and in the NWSL with the Chicago Red Stars (7 games) and Washington Spirit (3 games) in 2017 and 4 games (197 minutes) this season for Washington before being released in mid-June. American forward Ashley Herndon played at James Madison University, spent time with the W-League side D.C. United Women in 2011 and 2012 (who finished in third place in the finals) and has been coaching youth in the States. Czech Republic international forward Petra Divisova (34), who has played with Slavia for over a decade and played years ago in the German regional league, led the way for Slavia with 5 goals in their three matches. Slavia is now competing in its sixth Champions League/UEFA Women's Cup, and fifth consecutive appearance since 2014-15, making the Quarterfinals in 2015-16 and last season.
ZFK Spartak Subotica of Serbia won Group 5 and has two Americans—a midfielder and a forward—two Brazilian forwards along with a forward from Ghana. The Americans include midfielder Clare Pleuler, who played at Boston University, as well as forward Angelina Hix, who played at Mira Costa Community College in Oceanside (Greater San Diego), California. Hix played with the WPSL's powerhouse San Diego SeaLions and LA Galaxy Orange County women in the UWS this past summer, where she won the league offensive Player of the Week award for scoring 3 goals and 2 assists in two wins over So. Cal Crush FC in 2018. Hix scored two goals in the three matches while Pleuler scored the winner in the 1-0 opener versus Qiryat Gat of Israel. The Brazilian forwards are Aline Rosa (1 WCL goal) and Tcheury Brazil, who won the 2017 Copa Libertadores Femenina with Osasco Audax in 2017 and previous played with Santos at home. Priscilla Okyere is a Ghanaian international forward who moved from local National Women's League Champions Ampem Darkoa Ladies and scored once and had five assists in 3 friendlies ahead of the WCL games and then a brace in the 4-0 win of Breznica of Montenegro; she signed with the Serbian club this summer in a one year deal.
Spartak has made the WCL in seven of eight seasons since 2011-12, making the Round of 32 now on four occasions, but for the first time since the 2015-16 season, having failed to make it out of the Qualifying Rounds the last two seasons.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey