Emily Armstrong is finishing her third year in Europe, this year with Swedish second division club Sundsvall. Armstrong previously was a three-year starter at UConn, before traveling to Norway, Iceland, and finally to her current club in Sweden. A starter at each club she played for, Armstrong wraps up the Next Step series by recapping her journey to this point as well as how where her focus is moving forward.
The Next Step is a three-part series. Click here to read the other two installments.
When did you first have the thought, “Yeah, I can play professionally in Europe?”
It was right after my final college season. A friend reached out and asked what I thought about playing in Norway. The thought both excited and scared me a little. Living in another country sounded awesome. But the idea of being an ocean away from family and friends was a bit daunting. I suddenly realized playing overseas was a real option for me. It wasn’t until a few months later when I started chatting with Medkila, however, that I knew it was something I was ready to pursue.
How would you describe the culture surrounding Sundsvall?
Teams typically don’t pay foreign players to come in and sit. There is an immediate respect for foreign players in some ways, and the expectation that you’ll make an immediate impact. I have found the coaches, players, and staff in Sundsvall to be quite welcoming and supportive.
Does playing overseas help your resume when trying to return to the US to play in the NWSL?
I believe playing overseas has certainly helped build my resume. One of my original goals playing in Europe was to gain experience that would make me a more marketable keeper in any league in the world – including the NWSL. That said, I have truly enjoyed living and playing in Europe, and experiencing the unique cultures of Norway, Iceland, and Sweden.
How has your game changed since playing in college?
The mental side of my game has changed immensely. When football becomes a job, there is more pressure to perform. It has certainly been a challenge over the past few years, in that I’ve not experienced the level of team success I enjoyed at UConn.* But I have discovered there are important lessons to be learned in both wins and losses – opportunities for personal growth and development.
Technically, I believe every aspect of my game has improved. Most notably, my game in the air – coming off my line explosively and holding the ball in traffic. (Things can get pretty physical here in Sweden!) I’ve also taken my short and long kicking game to another level. All of my game experience has really helped with my decision making – making the right read early on.
* Armstrong compiled a 54-18-4 record during her four years at UConn.
By the end of your career, what would you be disappointed with yourself if you hadn’t accomplished it?
In my fifth-grade yearbook, I stated that my favorite food was grilled cheese and that I wanted to be a professional soccer player when I grew up. To be honest, though, it really wasn’t until my college career ended that I realized playing professionally was what I wanted.
Jürgen Klopp wrote a piece for The Players’ Tribune recently in which he stated that “football is not life or death.” This really resonated with me. My football journey itself is, in a sense, the end goal for me. I am enjoying my experience as a professional athlete right now, right here in Sundsvall. There are only a finite number of years we have to play this game. If we focus solely on opportunities that may or may not arise in the future, we risk missing out on what is happening today.
So, for now, I am focused on becoming a better football player, helping my team succeed, and really embracing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in Europe.