Jayhawks in the Pros: Caroline VanSlambrouck
This spring we are catching up with several former KU soccer players who have extended their careers into the professional ranks. This week, Caroline VanSlambrouck is featured.
VanSlambrouck with the Houston Dash in 2016.
VanSlambrouck was a four-year letterwinner for Kansas soccer from 2011-14. She played in 80 matches during her Jayhawk career, which included starts in 63 of those contests. In her senior year in 2014, she was a fixture on a stingy KU defense that tallied a goals-against average of 0.80, the third-lowest in program history. She helped that team to a 15-win season and its sixth NCAA Tournament appearance. For her efforts, she was an All-Big 12 First Team selection and also added to the NSCAA All-Central Region First team after that season.
Following her KU career she opted to pursue a professional soccer career. She eventually settled in Europe, playing with a Kungsbacka DFF, top top-tier team in the Southwest region of Sweden. She came back to the states for a stint with the NWSL’s Houston Dash during the spring of 2016, before rejoining Kungsbacka later that year.
Last year she took her talents to Iceland, where she signed with a team called IBV. There she and her team enjoyed unprecedented success in her first season.
We caught up with Caroline as she spent her offseason back in the U.S., preparing for another season with IBV. She discussed her time in Iceland, the decision to continue her soccer career and what she envisions as her next step.
Give us a quick rundown of your pro career so far. What has been your overall impression of the experience?
So, this will be my fourth professional season coming up. I graduated from KU in the spring of 2015 and I went and played 2015 in Sweden. I went back to Sweden in 2016 and I played 2017 in Iceland. In 2016, I played for the Houston Dash for some of that season, too.
In Sweden I played for a team called Kungsbacka DFF. They’re located in Gothenburg, near the southwest side of the country. That was really good as my first experience because that club is used to having international players come in. There was one other international girl with me who was Japanese and we were living together. So we were experiencing all this for the first time together. It was really good because in that league the style is very tactical and technical and the level of understanding of the game over there is different. It was great for me to go in and learn some of that stuff and know where I needed to be and the way they do things. The Swedish style of play is just very different. I’m not really sure I ever got a full grasp of it.
What made you decide to continue play soccer after college?
I wish I had some romantic story of what made me want to continue playing after KU but I really don’t. After I graduated I just thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll give it a shot.’ So I gave it a shot and I love it. I love living abroad. I was lucky enough that I had a team that was willing to take a chance on me. The whole time I was a working for it. It’s not just that it all worked out by itself. I was really training for it and committing myself to do it. At every stage it’s just been awesome. Every team that I’ve gone to, I’ve learned something new from it. I’ve found personal growth in different ways. I’ve learned how to live on my own. I’ve figured out how to get through a season when no one speaks English. So now it’s become a little more permanent.
At first I really struggled because it’s not a career that has a lot of stability. You have to be comfortable training and working extremely hard for something and not knowing if a team is going to sign you. Not knowing if anything is going to happen. That was really, really hard at the beginning. Like I said, it’s my fourth year now so I’ve become a lot more comfortable with those unknowns. I’ve also kind of proven to myself that I know I can do this. I’m good enough. There are teams that are willing to sign me and it’s going to be fine just as long as I take care of all the stuff on my end, it’s going to be fine.
It’s been cool. It’s certainly different but I can’t imagine doing this any other way. That includes going to Kansas, too, and everything that I learned there. It’s been a fun process but it started six years ago.
Which team in Iceland were you playing for? What has that experience been like?
The team is called IBV and we play on a little tiny island called Vestmannaeyjar. It was the funniest thing because last year we had a cup game, and for those cup games you play every single team in your league, and there was this dad in the crowd and he had a Jayhawk hat on. My parents were visiting at the time and they were like, ‘What’s that Jayhawk guy doing here?’ It turned out to be Eva Eliasdottir’s (current member of the KU soccer team) dad. We were playing Selfoss which was the team she played for. She ended up being there too and she came up to me and introduced herself. She told me she went to school at KU and I just remember thinking, ‘This really is a small country’ to run into someone like that.
What’s it like in Iceland?
Everyone that I’ve met there has been great. They’re really good people. They’re kind and willing to help and just very welcoming. I can’t wait to go back. I was sad to leave my life in Sweden but it’s such an amazing country over there.
Talk us through your arrangement with the team in Iceland?
My contract with Iceland is sweet! Basically, all the money I get is my spending money. Housing is covered. My bills are covered. I don’t need a car so I don’t have any transportation bills. I have a pre-paid grocery card that covers my groceries. So it’s a pretty sweet set-up. And I did well enough last year that they gave me a little bit of a raise too! It’s hard when I’m here in California because I just watch my bank account go down because I’m not over there, but I know when I get back it will go back up (laughing).
Oversees play has been a success for VanSlambrouck.What’s cool about the team in Iceland is there are six other internationals and five of them are English speakers. Two of them are from Canada. Two of them are from the States and there’s a girl from Jamaica. What’s unusual about this team is, because it’s not on the mainland, a lot of the younger Icelandic girls don’t want to live on this little Island while they’re in their 20’s. There are only 4,000 people. The island is only seven square miles. It’s gorgeous and such an amazing place but 20-year-olds are not wanting to go live there. So that’s why there are so many internationals. I have my little group that I hang out with during the day when the Icelandic players go to work. Last year I lived in an apartment with two other girls, one of the Canadians and one of the other Americans, and it was perfect. We could all hang out during the day then go to training. It was so nice because when you live abroad you don’t realize how much you appreciate your own language and being able to talk freely. I’m not having to think, ‘Did you know that word? Am I talking too fast? Did you know what I’m saying?’
My coach speaks English, he’s a British guy. He’s lived in Iceland for something like 14 years. His training sessions are really cool. He’ll seamlessly flow from English to Icelandic, even within one drill sometimes. It’s perfect being an international because for the first time I can be like, ‘hey, what are you saying?’ and he’s able to tell me. He’s a really good coach. He’s younger and he understands the game really well.
Talk about the training facilities in Iceland?
They have a really nice indoor training facility. I think it’s three-quarters of a field but it’s a pretty good size. It’s not heated but at least you’re out of the wind. That’s the worst thing, the wind and the rain. Temperature-wise it doesn’t get too far below freezing that often, but there are 40-mile an hour winds and that will definitely make you feel cold. We’ll train in the indoor facility until probably the middle of April. We’ll be inside just because the grass still needs to grow enough to play on. Usually by the beginning of May our field is ready.
What does your offseason look like?
It started October. The season ended at the end of September in Iceland. After that I just traveled around Iceland for 2.5 weeks and that was really fun. So the offseason is October-February basically. It’s different than in the U.S., because there’s not really any organized offseason workouts or training sessions. Everything is just on your own. It’s different in some ways but it’s also my fourth offseason so I have figured out what works for me and what I need to do. There’s a strength trainer out here that I see three times a week and then I have a group of professional and semi-pro guys that I play pick-up with three times a week. It’s been awesome. It’s been a great experience during the offseason.
The season starts at the end of April and the first weekend of May. We still have some time for preseason then it gets going quick. Since it’s so cold there they really squish the season together.
What do you do for work during the offseason? How did that all come together?
I feel like such a millennial. I was in Iceland and I found these people online and sent them an Instagram message. I asked them if they needed any trainers and told them I played professionally in Iceland. They ended up responding and called me back and I was like, ‘Wait, that actually worked!?’ So I ended up getting an initial interview in July and then my formal interview was in October, so I’ve been there for about four month now.
Is that something you can go back to next off season?
Yes, I’ll be able to go back to that, which is such a relief! They’ve even mention that this could be a potential career path for me if I wanted it to be. It’s nice that they’re willing to work with me and just willing to be flexible with my schedule.
So what do you envision as the next step in your playing career?
Eventually I’d like to get back to the States. Iceland has been a really good stepping stone. I’ve definitely learned a lot there but internationally, the league isn’t respected. To get to the level that I think I need to get to play in the States, I think I need to play somewhere like Australia, Germany or France. Just some place that has a “big name”. The quality in Iceland is really good, but to be able to come back to the NWSL and say ‘hey, I’ve played in this league in Germany or in that league in France’, just sounds good. Unfortunately that does matter – where you played. It’s not just how much you learned or how much you improved, it’s ‘did you play in this country?’, even if your team was not great.
I kind of have a 2-3 year plan. Play in Iceland this next season, try to do really well again. I performed really well last year and got a lot of recognition. I was on the Team of the Week six times. We won the first major title for our club. It was one of the first times a club outside of Reykjavik has actually won this title.
So going back this year, my goal is to do this all again. And the year after next I’m looking to play somewhere else. But I don’t know where that’s going to be.
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