Posted: May 21, 2008
Gina Lewandowski simply wasn’t ready to give up the game she loved. A four-year standout on the pitch for the Lehigh women’s soccer team, Lewandowski finished her career in the Brown and White at or near the top of the school annals in goals and points. Armed with some family connections and a desire to continue her playing career, she took a leap of faith and ended up across the pond, some 4,000 miles away from home as the starting center back for Germany’s top team.
The odyssey began in the spring of 2007, as Lewandowski prepared for life after Lehigh.
“I have family that lives outside of Frankfurt and I contacted them to see if there were any opportunities for me to continue my soccer career in Germany,” explains Lewandowski. “They had a friend who contacted FFC Frankfurt for me and we were able to set up a time that I could come and tryout.”
Shortly after graduation Lewandowski, who was born and raised in the Lehigh Valley and had admittedly done little traveling in her lifetime, headed off to Germany. When she arrived she could not even get a tryout with FFC Frankfurt until mid-July, and the tryout itself was a lengthy process. Lewandowski practiced with the team for over a month before she was offered a contract.
“It was a huge leap of faith that she took,” says Lehigh head coach Manny Oudin. “For her to go overseas and give it a chance, and then to take advantage of that long tryout on one of the best teams in the world; and now be able to play alongside some of the greatest players in the world is a tremendous opportunity.”
Her team, FFC Frankfurt, is no ordinary team. FFC Frankfurt has won five of the last seven titles in the Women’s Bundesliga (Federal Premier League). The roster is littered with some of the best players in Germany, if not the world. Among Lewandowski’s teammates is Birgit Prinz, who is a three time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year (2003, 2004, 2005) and is the all-time leading scorer at the Women’s World Cup, in which Germany has captured the last two titles.
“I remember hearing about FFC Frankfurt during my early college years and never would have imagined ever playing with them today,” recalls Lewandowski. “It has been a great experience to be playing here in Germany in the Bundesliga alongside some of the best players in Germany and the world. I have learned a lot playing on this team and a lot more about the game of soccer. To see the level of play that they bring to the field and to be a part of it, is almost a dream come true.”
One of the most prolific goal-scorers in school history as a midfielder, Lewandowski has successfully made the transition to the defensive side of the field, where she has assumed a starting position as a center back. She has played in 15 Bundesliga matches for FFC Frankfurt, which sits atop the standings with a 14-2-2 record.
The German soccer season, however, is much more than just the 22 Bundesliga matches. Last month, Lewandowski and her FFC Frankfurt teammates captured the German Cup, defeating FC Saarbrucken 5-1 in Berlin. As defending Bundesliga champions, FFC Frankfurt also qualified for the UEFA Cup, which pits the best teams in Europe against one another to determine the European Club Championship. FFC Frankfurt has reached the finals, where they will face Umea IK of Sweden in a home-and-home series.
Naturally, the other big adjustment Lewandowski faced was in learning the language; but it’s an adjustment she has embraced and managed efficiently.
“Living in Germany has definitely been an adjustment but also quite an adventure,” says Lewandowski. “Being able to live with my family has made the transition much easier and the experience that much better. I am learning German during my free time so that has also helped in the transition. Though I am nowhere near fluent yet, it has been a cool experience learning the language and trying to communicate with others around me. Most of the girls on the team know English, or at least some English, so that has been a help as well.”
“You look at the overall experience, for Gina trying to play soccer at the highest level,” adds Oudin. “She’s done that and she’s experienced tremendous success. We couldn’t be happier for her. “
The next month will be a busy one for Lewandowski and her teammates. They will play the UEFA Cup finals, and will try to maintain a four point lead with four matches remaining on the way to another Bundesliga title. When the season concludes, she hopes to spend some time back at home and work a few camps before the season starts up again in August.