Julkaisemme tällä palstalle pelaajien kolumneja heidän arjestaan liigajalkapalloilijoina. Kolumnisarjan aloittaa kolminkertainen Suomen mestari, Åland Unitedin yhdysvaltalaishyökkääjä Ashley Riefner.
This year marks the fifth season that I have played in Finland. When I arrived in Helsinki in May of 2016, fresh from graduating college, I was filled with so many emotions. Playing at the next level was always a dream of mine and I was so excited to play in another country. I felt so lucky and determined to prove myself. Little did I know all the other challenges, aside from the soccer field, would feel just as hard as the 1v1 battles on the field. This was the first time I ever lived more than twenty minutes away from my home and the first time I had been in a completely new environment. Aside from the extremely foreign language and new culture, the soccer was also different in Finland. It’s not crazy to say soccer in the U.S. is focused on physical attributes like speed and strength. Of course the technical and tactical sides to the game are massively important and equally as impressive, I was just always taught that being competitive and resilient were the keys to winning. My experience here has shown me that European soccer puts more focus on the tactical and analytical parts of the game.
Since my journey to Finland in 2016, I have now played on three different teams in the Finnish league. I have also experienced what its like to be a professional and whats its like to balance working and playing at the same time. To be honest, both have their draws and setbacks. Being a professional is great for the obvious reasons because you can train more and have more time to rest between trainings, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds. As a professional I have struggled sometimes to find passions outside of soccer and to be living in a foreign country. After a hard loss or bad training its easy to get stuck in your head when you don’t have anything else to focus on. I think being mentally tough and finding other hobbies is so important to finding the right balance on and off the field. My third season in Finland I wasn’t offered a pro contract and I had to secure a work permit in order to stay. I was working 40 hours a week at a daycare, waking up at 5am everyday and going straight from work to training. While this was tiring it was surprisingly easier in other ways because I had new things to take my mind away from soccer during the day. All in all, I have major respect for both sides because it’s not easy to try to perform consistently at a high level no matter what you have going on off the field.
Playing here for five seasons I can say that the league has really developed. I remember playing my first games at PK Vantaa and noticing that there was a clear difference between the top and bottom teams. As the seasons have passed the lines between the bottom and the top have become more blurred. Especially this year I really believe that every team has the ability to beat anyone. There are so many young talents in the league along with awesome experienced players, every match is battle. When reflecting about the clubs I have played in during my time here I can’t help but smile. I would never believe you if you told me 5 years ago that I would have the opportunity to play at three top clubs in Finland. It’s been such a cool experience to play at different places and learn new things about my game and myself. My first club in Finland, PK Vantaa, was such a technically gifted team. The training environment was great because all the players were so good with the ball the coaches were so passionate about teaching their unique playing style. I was pretty lucky to come from the U.S to an already successful and established team in Finland. Playing in HJK felt like my first real taste of a top notch professional club in Europe considering their stadium, facilities and resources. From the awesome players to the personalized trainings, HJK does a great job at developing talent. At Åland United I noticed right away at how professional the organization is behind the scenes, they really do a great job at making sure every player is taken care of. It’s also an unusual place in the sense that most of the players are here strictly to play soccer so they have more time to develop in the gym or on the field. It is hard to speak for other clubs in the league but considering that the level is continually improving every year it shows that other teams are also putting more effort and resources into the women’s game.
Overall my time in Finland has been really rewarding and eye opening. Trying to adapt to a new culture, make new friends and attempting to understand the language hasn’t been easy but its been worth it. I feel like every step along the way has been outside my comfort zone and I wouldn’t change a thing. Finland will forever have a place in my heart, kiitos kaikille.