Photo: Michael Long
With the new women’s professional league, the National Women’s Soccer League, kicking off this spring, we talked with former Philadelphia Independence midfielder Joanna Lohman about her journey to NWSL since Women’s Professional Soccer folded in early 2012. In part one of the interview, Joanna details her time playing for Espanyol in Spain as well as playing for DC United Women in the W League. She finished 2012 with a short stint with the LA Vikings.
Philly Soccer Page: You had already made the plan to play in Barcelona for Espanyol at the end of the WPS Season. What was it like to play in the Spanish league? What were the immediate differences?
Joanna Lohman: I’ve been a big proponent of thinking that women’s soccer in a certain country reflects how women are treated culturally. In America with Title XI, there’s no better place to be a female athlete than the United States of America. I know that through my own experiences, it’s sexy and attractive to be an athlete. They support you from day one of your progression through the different age groups. They encourage you to play and be active and to become a great athlete, but it’s not necessarily true in most other countries. And I think Title XI is a big part of that.
So when you go to a country like Spain where they’ve recently, relatively speaking, overcame a strong dictatorship, where they’re a pretty Catholic and conservative country, you don’t have the frequency of women playing sports. It’s not as encouraged or supported to play a sport. You have less females playing sports, less active women.
So you have a league that isn’t necessarily that competitive. You have usually two or three really good teams and the rest…there are certain games where you could come out and know without a shadow of a doubt that you were going to win 10-0. It’s disheartening as an athlete. As an American athlete, you want each game to be competitive. It’s hard to sometimes know, save for some divine intervention, that you are going to win that game. That was a little bit different.
I think the training regiment in Spain was very different. They don’t necessarily believe in training every single day, three hours a day—what I believe it takes to become a great professional. I think they still worry about over-training with women and are very sensitive on that issue. We found it hard that sometimes we weren’t able to train as much as we’d like to.
Regardless of that, I think that Barcelona is an incredible city. The girls, they did their best to welcome us into the team. Spain isn’t know for its number of internationals in the league. We were two of a handful of internationals that were in the league. You have teams in Spain like Athletic Bilbao, that literally only make up their team from players in that area. We stuck out like sore thumbs a little bit. You have some pressure on you as a player when you’re brought in to serve a purpose.
Our team started off really well. We’d gone to India and had to miss a few games and we got back things didn’t go as well as we wanted to. In the beginning we had been really, really strong, it got really hard for us at the end of our trip.
PSP: It’s something that gets talked about here in the US all the time in regards to the success of a women’s league; that MLS needs to more involved. But what was the influence of the Espanyol men’s team on the women? Was it positive?
JL: Absolutely. You have the same fan base. You train at the same facilities. They obviously played in a large stadium (we didn’t). But we trained right next to the men. You’ve got the same fan base. You wear the same jersey. It is a strong affiliation with the club, which I think is an enormous benefit for the women’s team. I don’t think the women’s team would be there without the men. I’m actually worried because Espanyol is currently in the relegation zone in La Liga. I’m worried that if the men get relegated and there is less money for next season that they could drop the women’s program. But the men’s teams have a very strong influence over all the women’s teams in Spain.
PSP: Where were you when WPS decided to cease operations? Were you still in Spain? Were you planning on coming back to play in the league again?
JL: We were planning on coming back to play in the WPS. We were actually in New Delhi when we found out the league was folding. We had already signed contracts for the coming season when we heard. We were extremely disappointed and obviously everyone was. It was really sad to see the league fail for a second time. We worried, at that point, if it would have the momentum to come back.
We had been playing for almost two-and-a-half years, first with the Independence for two seasons and then with Espanyol. We thought instead of scrambling to find a new fully professional team and have to travel to another country, we wanted a more laid back summer and maybe a more amateur situation and that’s what led us to play in the W-League.
PSP: Did you explore other options? Or were you set on coming home to DC at that point?
JL: We didn’t leave our contracts with Espanyol until April. At that point it was pretty late. For me personally, I didn’t have much desire [to look for a new team overseas]. I’d been gone for nine months at that point and that was a long time to be gone. I had my heart set on coming back to the US .
The W-League season isn’t very long. You’re only talking about maybe three months. It still gives you the option to go abroad if that’s what you so choose. Really what I wanted to do was home and find a convenient team in a location that I wanted to be in.
PSP: What was the affiliation like with DC United? Was the situation similar to Espanyol?
JL: It was an extremely loose affiliation with the men’s club. But we were able to go to some of the games. We made friends with some of the players. Just the name recognition served its purpose. We played in completely different states though. They play in DC, we played in Maryland. The affiliation is loose. It has its benefits, though.
PSP: How much of a step down was the W-League after playing in Spain and the WPS?
JL: Coming from the WPS and going to any other league besides maybe Sweden or Germany would be a big step down. WPS was the best league in the world and I have no doubt in my mind when I say that. When you come from playing in the best league, playing in any other league is a transition.
Every single game in WPS was competitive. And then when you come out to play on the weekend and you don’t have a competitive game or the team you are playing against isn’t up to snuff, you don’t get complacent but maybe you do take your foot off the gas pedal a little. It was hard to come from such a competitive atmosphere and then go to Spain and then the W-League.
The W-League is an amateur league. You play the same four or five teams in your division and then once you reach the playoffs you have more competitive games. But there were definitely some games where you wish it was a bit more competitive.
PSP: You recently had the opportunity to go out to California and play with the LA Vikings. How did that come about and what was the experience like?
JL: The team was around last year. They played some friendlies against the US National Team and the Canadian National Team. They wanted to do that again, this time in tournament form but unfortunately things didn’t go as planned. But we went out there and had a fantastic training environment, probably the best training group outside of the national team. Unfortunately the tournament fell through in the end so we didn’t get to play any games.
In part two of the interview (to run Thursday), Joanna discusses changes that must be made to sustain the new league as well as talking about JoLi Academy, the non profit organization she started with her partner Lianne Sanderson to bring soccer to girls throughout the world and here in the US.