Alyssa Giannetti Interview: American Sets Standard in Norway's Premier League

Alyssa Giannetti is the starter for Arna-Bjørnar, a premier league side in Norway. After becoming a four-time letter winner at Cal Poly, where she set school records for most saves in a season and in a career, Giannetti went from Big West honorable mention to Norway's top goalkeeper in her rookie season. Giannetti talks about her time at Cal Poly, the journey to Norway, and her plans for next season.

Looking back at Cal Poly, what did you take from there that helped make the jump to the professional game?

Cal Poly was the total package for me, I had the time of my life playing there. It was a really nurturing environment, which allowed me to pursue other interests outside of soccer like surfing and hiking. My time there fueled my passion for the game because of how much fun I was having. I learned how to make sacrifices and fully commit myself to the sport in order to have a chance at pursuing a career beyond college.

When I talked to Haley Kopmeyer earlier this year, she mentioned she had mentally prepared herself that her playing career might be coming to an end. Was this something you can relate to coming out of college?
Yes and no. I had to force myself to confront that as a possibility, but I had a strong gut feeling that college soccer wasn't the end. I was at a point where I was ready and willing to do anything to get to the next level. This sounds corny, but I knew deep down that playing professionally was going to be a part of my path.

Photo courtesy of  Widgic Studio

Photo courtesy of Widgic Studio

You went from California to sign with Norwegian premier club Arna-Bjørnar. How did that unfold?

It was quite the turnaround actually. After the NWSL draft, I was working with my agent to contact clubs and get my name out there. I wasn't really getting any interest back after a month of this, so it wasn't looking too good. This all changed one day when I was sitting in class and I got a text from my agent saying, "How soon can you go to Norway?" I remember subtly freaking out and darting out of the classroom so I could call him. He told me that I got a contract, but I would have to board a plane to Norway in three days. I knew that it was the opportunity I had been dreaming of so I called my parents to get their blessing and accepted the offer. I worked it out with my professors so I could finish my classes abroad and put graduation on hold. Three days after I got that text, I was on a flight to Norway. 

If you were to give advice to a college player who is trying to become a pro, what would you tell them to do? Is there anything that may seem like a good idea but is actually a waste of time?

I see it as an all-or-nothing type of deal. How you take care of yourself off the field directly translates to your performance on the field. You have to fully commit yourself to the process and be willing to make certain sacrifices in order to put yourself in the best position possible. It is also very helpful to find an agent to work with. They will help maximize your exposure to teams and assist with the logistical aspects. 

Don't waste your time waiting for the "perfect opportunity" to come up. It is important to cast a wide net and stay open minded in terms of location and what division the team is. The first season is important to get your foot in the door and once you get there, other opportunities will arise. If you dedicate every part of your being to something, nothing can stop you from achieving it. 
How would you describe Arna-Bjørnar as a club to fans back in the US? What stands out about their organization?

Arna-Bjørnar is a part of the top division in Norway. The club is located in Bergen, the second largest city in Norway other than Oslo. The club has a reputation for its strong player development and is also currently the youngest team in the Toppserien ( I was one of the oldest players at 22 years old). 

From the beginning I knew that Arna-Bjørnar was the perfect fit for me. There was an overwhelming sense of camaraderie and community throughout the club. My teammates and coaches were extremely welcoming and always made me feel like I was wanted and appreciated. These aspects played a huge factor in my decision to stay with the club for another season despite receiving outside interest.   

You won Goalkeeper of the Year in the Toppserien as a rookie, putting yourself in a small but elite group of American goalkeepers who have earned such an award. How has your game changed over the past year?

Once I got acclimated to the speed of play, I began to play a lot more confidently. Every time I put my cleats on I would tell myself that I was there for a reason and I needed to show that. Goalkeeper is such a mental position that coming into a match with the right mindset is just as important as being physically fit. I began to emphasize playing to my strengths during matches in order to increase my chances of having a favorable outcome. 

While it seems fairly common in the men's game for a player to go overseas at some point in his career, it doesn't happen as near as much on the women's. From someone who has now done it, what are the advantages of going overseas as opposed to staying in the US?

One huge advantage of going abroad is being able to experience a new culture and live in a different part of the world. You get to live and experience life as a local in your perspective country, which is an opportunity very few people get to have. In most cases, playing abroad allows you to live pretty comfortably and not have to worry about getting a second job. They do a really good job of taking care of their foreign players. 

Photo courtesy of   Widgic Studio

Photo courtesy of Widgic Studio

What's a common question you're asked about playing in Norway?

This is pretty specific to Bergen, but I always get asked how I cope with the rainy and cold weather. Bergen is the rainiest city in the country and has a similar climate to Portland and Seattle, so that was definitely a big change from California. 

Another question I get asked is if I learned any Norwegian. I have picked up on some words and sentences, but it would probably take me another five years to master.  

I saw something about being offered a spot on the Argentine U23 team. What is your connection to Argentina?

Shortly after I began my college career, I looked into the possibility of playing for the Argentine U23 national team. Both grandparents on my fathers side were born in Argentina. After emailing back and forth for awhile, they decided to offer me a spot. I did not even have dual citizenship at the time and in order to join the squad, I had to become a full citizen. As much as I would have loved to play for them, this was not a very realistic option for me. 

Last question, what's the ideal situation in the next couple years?

I will be staying with Arna-Bjørnar for the 2017 season, but the future of my career is still pretty much up in the air. In the next few years I would love to experience some other leagues in Europe and eventually return to the US to play in the NWSL.