RCW: The Icelandic Dream: U.S. collegiate soccer
Most people would be hesitant to travel over 3,000 miles away from home to play soccer in a foreign country, but freshmen soccer players Sabrína Adolfsdóttir, Eva Elíasdóttir and Erna Guðjónsdóttir didn’t have to think twice about becoming Jayhawks when the opportunity arose. Even from the infancy of their days’ playing the world’s game, these three Iceland natives always knew they wanted to continue their soccer careers in America.
“I wanted to study and play soccer at the highest level at the same time, and there are way more opportunities here than in Iceland,” Guðjónsdóttir said.
Guðjónsdóttir was the first Icelandic player recruited by Kansas head coach Mark Francis. She used a program called “Study and Play” to help get in contact with schools and coaches. Last February, Francis received an e-mail about Guðjónsdóttir and watched video of her. He then traveled to Boston, and from Boston he made the five-hour long flight to Iceland to see one of her training sessions. She was supposed to play a game during his time there, but it was cancelled. After observing Guðjónsdóttir train, he offered her a spot on the squad.
In March, Guðjónsdóttir formally committed to play for the Jayhawks, which then led to recruiting the other two Icelandic players. When Francis was still looking to fill positions, he e-mailed Guðjónsdóttir and asked if she had any friends that would be interested in joining the team.
“I told them [Eva and Sabrina] about how awesome Kansas is,” Guðjónsdóttir said. “The facilities are some of the best in the nation, so I think I convinced them.”
Guðjónsdóttir and Elíasdóttir have been teammates on the same club team since age 13 while Guðjónsdóttir and Adolfsdóttir knew each other through the under-19 National Team. However, it was not always their plan to play for the same college.
Adolfsdóttir was originally looking at schools in Florida and Arkansas and didn’t even know about the University of Kansas, but she had heard the term ‘Jayhawk.’
“I had heard of Jayhawks, but I didn’t know it was a school. When they said Erna was coming here I was like, ‘Oh yeah! I want to come here. This school stood out from all the others and it helped that they [Erna and Eva] would also be here.”
Sabrína Adolfsdóttir”I had heard of Jayhawks, but I didn’t know it was a school. When they said Erna was coming here I was like, ‘Oh yeah! I want to come here,'” she said. “This school stood out from all the others and it helped that they [Erna and Eva] would also be here.”
Elíasdóttir also knew she wanted to play soccer abroad, but until Guðjónsdóttir told her about Kansas, she wasn’t sure where she would end up. She visited schools in Georgia and Texas, but KU emerged as her clear choice.
“When I came here and saw the facilities, it was amazing. It was just great,” Elíasdóttir explained.
Kansas is fortunate to have landed the women from abroad, as there is perhaps no better time than now to be a soccer player in Iceland, which boasts a population of just over 300,000, almost all of whom are in love with the sport. Soccer has always been popular in Iceland, but that popularity reached new heights this summer after the men’s national team shocked the world and put its tiny country in the global spotlight with its stellar performance in the European Championships.
“It was amazing watching the tournament because nobody thought that little Iceland would do so well,” Guðjónsdóttir said. “The big difference about the tournament was that everyone was watching, not just people who enjoy watching soccer, it was the whole country watching.”
Watching the men’s team compete became such a priority that stores actually closed down so the employees could watch the games, something that seems unfathomable in the United States.
“It was amazing,” Adolfsdóttir reminisced. “I was trying to get to the games, but my team was in season then, so I was kind of bummed about not getting to go to the games. But we were in our living room watching TV screaming. I can’t describe it.”
Although the men’s team in Iceland has sparked a resurgence of the sport, soccer has always been a different culture there than compared to here in America.
Francis uses this trend to his advantage when on the recruiting trail, and it is what eventually led him to the pursuit of the first Iceland natives to ever play on the KU roster.
“In their country, the way youth players are trained, the way they are coached and the way people treat it, it’s more like being a professional player, even at the youth level,” explained Francis. “Youth soccer here is such a massive business, where I think in their country it’s all about developing players, so their mentality is different.”
This is just one of the many factors that differ from country to country and, while the three freshmen haven’t faced any major struggles transitioning, there are a few differences about Kansas and Americans that have surprised them.
“I like that people are very nice here. In Iceland you hear that people in America are fake,” Adolfsdóttir said. “But I think they’re not fake; that surprised me most, that they’re so nice.”
Another pleasant surprise has been the treatment and availability of KU’s support staff and trainers that assist the student-athletes.
“You can get everything you really need, like treatment,” Elíasdóttir explained. “If you need help with anything you can get it right away, you just have to let people know about it. If I have something like blisters, my therapist puts some bandages on and I’m not used to that. It’s easy to get what you need.”
While the trio gets accustomed to life in Lawrence, their fellow students and teammates are getting acclimated to working with Iceland natives, which is not often found in the heartland of the United States. All three understand and welcome the curiosity and questions that come their way about their home country, but there is one question that all three want to put an end to: The age-old Iceland vs. Greenland question.
“They’re always asking me about the difference between Greenland and Iceland because they think Iceland should be Greenland and Greenland should be Iceland,” Guðjónsdóttir said. “I had one question the other day that we get a lot in Iceland, ‘Do you live in a snow house?’ No, it’s not like that.”
So, is Iceland really green and Greenland actually ice?
“It’s true,” Elíasdóttir said. “We have ice in the winter, but not as much as Greenland does.”
The women plan to continue to educate their American friends about their homeland as they work their way through their collegiate careers. After their time as Jayhawks, all three have desires to play soccer professionally; but for now, they’re just ready to enjoy their time at Kansas.