Earlier in 2017, Women’s Soccer Zone featured Maryland native Audrey Baldwin and profiled the journey she took through the first few years of her professional career. After spending a few months this summer training with the NWSL’s Washington Spirit, Baldwin was offered an opportunity to play for the Kosovo Women’s Football League champions, WFC Hajvalia, in the UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifiers. Here is the second of a three-part series as she takes us through playing for a team in UEFA’s newest affiliated country (Click Here to read part one and Click Here for part two of the series).
There are three major categories that need to be addressed as a professional athlete. To be successful, I believe you need to have a balance of all three; Quality of life, Football training, and Salary. They can be at different levels according to the players’ priorities, but if one or two of those needs are low, the other need to be high for the situation to work out. So personally, I can take a low salary as long as my football and my life are of quality. If my football is bad, then I am usually not happy… and if my quality of life is low, then I usually don’t perform as well on the pitch, creating a cycle.
I wrote last time about some of my experience in Kosovo. I explained in a little more detail how my quality of living was quite poor, and once my goalkeeper coach left, the football became poor as well.
What I didn’t tell you all yet was what happened in the Champions League.
It became obvious that the lack of experience and support the club had dealing with all things leading up to the Champions League affected the efficiency of finalizing paperwork, travel scheduling and play. Due to certain circumstances, players had to venture to Albania, Serbia, and Macedonia in order to get passport stamps before traveling to our matches, only to find that paperwork was forgotten and incorrect cars were driven, which wasted valuable preparation time. There were last minute trips for the girls to get visas and insurance because of that, practices started to get slower and chattier instead of more intense. And for us to qualify for the knockout round, we had to play three matches in a short period of time and win our group. And with all of the distractions and lack of preparation, the girls just lost their focus.
Then, we took almost a 12-hour bus ride to Hungary through the night, only to have one day to “relax” before the match. Luckily, UEFA and the hotel provided eating and practice time slots for every team. Everything before the first match went by okay, just a little less serious than I experienced last time I was on a team that played in the Champions League – with Fortuna Hjorring.
Then in the game our inexperience showed. We made crazy mistakes and allowed our first opponent from Hungary to dictate every play. We were slow to react, out of shape, and made poor substitution decisions. We didn’t follow our game plan and in the end this pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip.
We started to miss practice times because of the bus and scheduling issues, girls ran wild and didn’t rest, while my roommate, Ugne, and I watched game footage alone to prepare for the next matches. I was asked if the other goalkeeper could play instead of me because they felt bad for making her travel without playing. After having an amazing first game, I obviously protested and played again, but only to lose our next match against our second opponent from Kazakhstan. The same things occurred in the following days. There were barely any practices and there were random meetings scattered during the off days. The coach and myself tried to get the girls pumped, but it seemed like everyone was there just for fun and did not really care if we lost.
It was confusing and I got even more confused right before the last game, when the director and the coach said they were sitting Ugne and I because it wasn’t fair to the other girls to travel and not play. They wanted to give the girls “motivation” for the upcoming season. That’s when I admittedly lost my head.
This is the CHAMPIONS LEAGUE. I came to Hajvalia to play in these games and I just did not understand how they would think it is okay to just sit me. Participation trophies are not on my list of things I support. Well, the 18-year-old keeper refused to play in the last match, so right before warm ups, they asked if I would play and I did. Ugne still sat and never got subbed in. The team had the same slower and inexperienced approach in the match, and we got walked all over. It was rough.
So now my quality of living was poor, the football level was poor, and after the Champions League, Ugne left the club and I was told my salary would be cut. So, all three of the major categories went down. The following week in Kosovo, the club tried to give me a larger role to help coach the girls and bring the level of intensity up, but the club isn’t ready. They do not know what is required to make it in other countries. They don’t have enough exposure or resources to be successful outside of Kosovo.
This was my moment. My moment of clarity. I need more and I need to be around like-minded individuals. I have always said that I do not get mad when people make mistakes or when we lose. I get angry when people do not try. I would rather have a less skilled team that leaves their heart out on the field, than girls with incredible talent that just do not try.
I only hope that I had an impact on at least one girl while I was there because that’s the only way to grow the game in these types of scenarios. If one or two of the people there can take one thing I taught them, it makes it worth it. Again, I had a couple girls that I really got along with and we made some great memories off the pitch!
So, I came home for two weeks. I trained with the Washington Spirit and with my personal coaches at Spartan Sports and Wellness, and then signed for Maccabi Kishronot Hadera in the Israeli Women’s Premier League for the upcoming season. This team wants to fight for the championship and wants to make a statement…and I want to be a part of that. We will see where this crazy life takes me, but I am going to make sure I continue to try to make an impact wherever I go; in women’s football, and personally on my team.
You can follow me on social media @audball_00! And if I have enough interest, maybe I’ll continue writing. 😉