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Women's football review: US keeper Katie Fraine finding success in Sweden

Tim Grainey speaks with Katie Fraine about her success in Sweden with Linkopings.

  Linkopings FC had a successful season in Sweden's Damallsvenskan during the recently completed 2014 campaign, finishing with 11 wins, 5 deadlocks and only 4 losses for 38 points.

They finished just one point behind third place Kopparbergs/Goteborg FC (39 points) and four points out of a Champions League berth for 2015-16, as KIF Orebro secured the second place spot with 42 points from 14 wins, no draws and 6 losses. A late run of poor form, in which they captured only 5 points out of 12 during their last four games, put paid to their quest for a Champions League spot next season. Swedish Champions FC Rosengard dominated the table with 54 points from 18 wins and only two defeats, both of which were to Linkopings FC in round four (2-0 away) and again in round sixteen (3-2) in the home return. Rosengard won the title for the second year in a row. Linkopings FC won the Swedish Cup this season, also for the second year in a row.

American goalkeeper Katie Fraine started the majority of regular season games for Linkopings (18 of 20). Fraine, a graduate of the University of Florida, had a disappointing time in WPS in 2011 with the Atlanta Beat, not seeing any playing time for a struggling team. Fraine eschewed the turmoil surrounding WPS (which ultimately folded permanently in 2012 after first taking the season off - particularly since no one believed the league would return in 2013) to go to Europe and played two years for Mallbackens - helping them to the top league for one season before the side was relegated at the end of the 2013 Damallsvenskan season - before joining Swedish power Linkopings this season.

She described her time at Linkopings as: "A great opportunity and experience for me this far." Despite a young team she feels that they are structured on the field through their coach Martin Sjogren: "We are a well-organized team and have a strong future. The season has had its ups and downs, and although we have had great success [such as] winning the Swedish Cup and defeating some of the other highly touted teams in the league, we have struggled a bit in the end of the season and won't be finishing as high as we hoped."

She has a contract for next season with Linkopings and wants to be involved in a title push in 2015; Linkopings won their lone league crown in 2009. She feels that Europe was the right move for her: "I really enjoy playing and learning in the European system. It allows me to spend time learning the game better and I feel that I have developed tremendously in my time here."

Linkopings season is not over despite the Swedish league season ending on October 19th Linkopings and Fraine are still active in this season's Champions League, having knocked out Liverpool 4-2 on aggregate in the Round of 32 and advancing to the Round of 16 last week with a 5-3 aggregate victory over Zvedza 2005 of Perm, Russia: "Competing in the Champions League with LFC has been a dream come true for me and I can only hope that experiences like these will continue to have a positive impact not only in my play but also in my future as a goalkeeper." Unfortunately, in the first leg at home against the Russian League Champion, Fraine was sent off in injury time of the first half for bringing down Jose Nahi (Ivory Coast international) in the box. Fraine's substitute - Hilde Gunn Olsen- saved Daryna Apanaschenko's penalty and the Swedish side ran out 5-0 winners. In the away leg on Thursday November 13th, Gunn Olsen had a nervy night as the Russian club pulled three goals back and she received a late yellow card late in the match, but Linkoping's home leg advantage took them through to the last eight (5-3 on aggregate). (Rosengard is also through to the quarterfinals by defeating Fortuna Hjorring of Denmark 4-1 on aggregate).

Fraine was invited to a U.S. U-23 national team camp in the summer of 2010 while still at the University of Florida under University of Portland head coach and former professional goalkeeper Bill Irwin (a native of Northern Ireland who played goalkeeper at Cardiff and for a number of sides in the original North American Soccer League), but as she says: "A girl can dream of future call ups." She has Irish heritage and while in college, the Republic was looking for American players with Irish parents or grandparents, but the paperwork to receive a passport is complicated and costly and she hasn't pursued it. She hopes that U.S. national team will call her in at some point.

There are some correlations to Fraine's brief experience with the U.S. National Team and another American who played club ball in Sweden and also internationally for her father's native Italy.

Anna Picarelli led Pepperdine University (Malibu, California) to two NCAA Sweet 16 playoff rounds in four years but always fought a perception that her short stature (5'4") was a liability, as most coaches look for keepers who are at least 5'9". Tim Ward, Pepperdine's head coach reflected on the effect Picarelli had on his program: "We had some great victories because of her….What was cool about Anna is that a lot of people passed on her during the recruiting process because she's small for a goalkeeper and I had a chance to see her play enough to know that despite her size, she played huge. She's one of the best athletes we ever had in our program. Her quickness, her jumping ability and her spring were just outstanding. Her reflexes were laser sharp."

After finishing college, Picarelli was called up to a United States U-21 camp but was told by the head coach Jill Ellis (now full national team head coach) that she was too short to ever make it at the full national team level. Ellis explained that Picarelli would be a "tactical disadvantage" when facing teams like Germany and Norway, with tall powerful strikers. Coach Ward chuckled when remembering that tryout, explaining: "She's really good at dealing with crosses but visually she doesn't have that presence, but when you see her play and see her fly, she's out of this world."

A club career in Italy followed, in which Picarelli was a part of three Serie A title winners at Bardolino, and led to a call from the Italian National Team. Head Coach Pietro Ghedin noticed her after a stirring 3-3 tie in the UEFA Women's Champions League versus Arsenal in 2007. She won her first cap in January 2008 and soon worked her way up to starter. In August 2009, Picarelli was the revelation at the European Women's Championships held in Finland. Only 24, Picarelli first led Italy to a shock 2-1 opening match win over England and then shut out Russia 2-0 during the group stage. Italy exited the tournament at the quarterfinal stage after a narrow 2-1 loss to the defending World and European Champions Germany.

It came as a surprise to many that Picarelli was an American. One challenge for American women playing abroad is that they can encounter far different perceptions of what are acceptable sports for women to play. Picarelli found that Italy was: "a decent 15 years behind the U.S." She described some of the reactions her team received: "Many people don't even acknowledge women's soccer in Italy. Many times when traveling with my team, people would ask what we were. We would respond 'a soccer team.' And then the questions would start…'How many of you are on the field at a time'? We'd respond '11', then they would go on… 'But the field is smaller right?' 'No'…'The ball is lighter?'… 'No'. 'The goals are smaller?'…'No.' 'You only play 35 minute halves?'… 'No'. It is very hard for people to grasp that we play just like the men."

In Italy, girls and boys play on the same teams until age 14 because few clubs had dedicated female youth teams but beyond that age there are limited options. Picarelli feels that more opportunities for younger girls to play with other girls will assist the growth of the game: "You can notice the influence of men's soccer in the women's game, whereas in the U.S. the two are very different, each with its own image. Italy as a whole is still a very macho country. Women are breaking down stereotypes every day, but even in a country as advanced as it is, it is hard for Italians to break away from the traditional views of women."

In 2010, Picarelli played with Kristianstads DFF while commuting to Europe for Italy's National Team games. Italy just missed out on a 2011 Women's World Cup spot after losing a final playoff round to the United States, by a 0-2 aggregate score. Picarelli moved back to the States for family reasons and has since played in the W-League for Pali Blues and Seattle Sounders Women.

Katie Fraine, who had really built her professional career in Europe, hopefully will have future national team opportunities with the Americans. A deep run to the CL semifinals or even the final by Linkopings should lift her visibility on the radar screen at home, with the NWSL sides and national team scouts.

 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

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