Where Cossacks held sway, women’s football adds international spice

Luik found that people in rural Ukraine, among the poorest European countries, lived a basic lifestyle. The Internet connection at the players’ lodging was a 1990s-style dial-up. “It took a half-hour to send one e-mail,” she recalls. The imports did not speak the language and since their television only received five stations—all in Ukrainian—there was little for them to do. When they wanted to travel within the country, they could not find the information they needed either on a train schedule or online. “We had to take a minibus to the train station and look up the times written in chalk on a board,” Luik explains. “It made me appreciate what I have here [in the U.S.] and how easy communication, transportation and everything is.”

On the soccer field, Luik gives Ukraine mixed ratings. Players and club officials were “over the moon” with the team’s progress to UEFA Women’s Cup second round. The domestic standard has improved to the point that the national women’s team in Ukraine has qualified for its first European championship, which begins in Finland in August. Yet most of the international players compete in Russia.

Despite the UEFA Cup wins, Luik did not find the training competitive, even with sessions twice per day. “They never worked on their fitness together. We had to do this on our own,” Luik says. “The Ukrainian style of play was much less physical and the imports had to temper their game, as a normal play in the United States would be whistled for foul play.” Even when coach Valeriy Sushko tried to surmount the language barrier by drawing on the tactics board, Luik rarely understood what he was trying to get across. They played and trained on bumpy fields with overgrown grass and poor drainage.

Yet Luik talks glowingly of what she learned by diving into a different culture. She loved the Ukrainian people and was particularly inspired by a teammate who had been orphaned as a young girl. With a goal to join Australia for the 2011 World Cup in Germany, Luik almost certainly will not return.

The same cannot be said for other U.S.-based talent looking to fill out competitive diaries. Expect several WPS players, who are cleared contractually to play anywhere from September through February, to travel overseas after the first season is complete.

FC Gold Pride forward Tiffany Weimer, for example, spent last fall in Finland and Brazil after first venturing abroad following her college career at Penn State. “I went [overseas] to play 90 minutes every weekend,” she says. “In the fall, there is nothing here except college soccer.” Even though she felt disconnected playing in Europe and South America, it helped her in the long run. Whether she returns overseas depends on how she feels at the end of the WPS season, but playing in Australia, Germany or Sweden sounds intriguing.

Additional reporting by John Turnbull.


James Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society: Development of Sport and Physical Education in Russia and the USSR (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).

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