Back in October of last year, Linköping and Liverpool met in the Round of 32 in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. The two clubs were sported Americans as goalkeepers, with Libby Stout starting for Liverpool and Katie Fraine in goal for Linköping. Liverpool won the first leg at home 2-1 but Linköping came back in the second leg, winning 3-0 and 4-2 on aggregate. The two spoke about their journey from going to a D1 school to a top European club, realizing their Champion League opposition’s goalkeeper was also American, and their outlook at being a part of the USWNT in the future.
Before we discuss your crossover in the Champions League match, talk about your time in school. What stands out about playing in college?
Katie Fraine, Linköping: I attended the University of Florida from 2006-2010, taking a redshirt season my first year due to a broken hand. My time there was filled with a lot of ups and downs but ultimately I would say it was one of my biggest learning experiences thus far in my career. I had the opportunity to work with some great coaches and players as well as get a high quality education that I could have otherwise never truly dreamed of. During my time there we were able to win the SEC conference five years in a row, going undefeated in one of those years. I learned a lot about being a team player and how to lead in different situations with the different types of people you deal with. These skills, as much as the football development, have helped me to adapt to the professional ranks and find connections with players all around the world.
Libby Stout, Liverpool: Looking back, I think what stands out the most, or what has influenced me the most in my life and career, is my freshman year. From day one, I was the sole keeper, as the other keeper had left the team just before the start of pre-season. This created an opportunity and environment that allowed me to step into a leadership role quicker than a 17 or 18 year old may have been ready for. I had a great year earning All-American honors, but more importantly that year provided me a platform to grow as a leader on and off the field and gave me a benchmark for success. So at a young age, I knew what leadership looked like and I knew what personal standards I had for myself in order to contribute to the team as a whole. As a team, we seemed to underachieve and never hit our ultimate goal but I would not be the person I am without those successes and failures. Ultimately, college allowed me to develop myself as an individual and athlete, specifically in a leadership capacity.
After someone graduates from a D1 program, what is the perception about becoming a professional? What separates the players that eventually turn pro versus the ones who don’t?
Stout: Yeah, I would say that women’s soccer does not see very many athletes go professionally no matter what D1 program you come from. I think that’s due in part to the relative instability of the US pro league and also the general lack of knowledge of how to even make it to the pros, domestic or international.
My thought is that American players have the best opportunity to play pro if they go abroad, making it a serious commitment when you factor in the living away from home and different culture. But the general perception is that when the final whistle blows your senior year, your soccer career is over unless you seriously have the desire and are willing to put in the effort to continue it further. When my final collegiate whistle blew, I sat for a while thinking, and I had the overwhelming thought, “This isn’t the end for me. I have more to do.”
Obviously a player’s ability and talent is a factor. If you have two players who are at the same talent level, what separates them is commitment and belief. That’s commitment to the journey of turning professional, and not stopping when you’ve hit a bump or someone says no. (Because a lot of people will tell you no.) And belief in yourself, your abilities, and your dream to make it to where you want to be. I’ve seen a handful of players with immense talent, but lacking in commitment and self-belief, who weren’t able to make it professionally.
Fraine: Coming from such a large D1 school you would think that there were many players who would look to go pro. However there is a certain pride that comes with being a Gator and many players are quite satisfied with their football careers peaking there. In my opinion, the girls that continue on to the pro ranks have a combination of a few things. Talent, of course, will come first and foremost or they will never make it. But almost just as important is an absolute love of the game, a strong work ethic, and the inability to give up that part of their lives. Many professionals give up more than you can imagine, especially those who move overseas, and being that the compensation is disgustingly lower than the men, the drive to succeed must always come from an internal source that is often difficult to explain.
Was becoming a professional goalkeeper the plan from the beginning? Or did opportunities just line up?
Fraine: For me, I have always been an athlete. There were times in my childhood when I thought olympic swimming was in my future, or being the first girl in MLB. I didn’t narrow my attention to just football until my junior year of high school, which was the first year I really decided to get serious with goalkeeping as well as possibly looking to play in college. There had been the 3 year stint of the WUSA in 2000 but before and after that I wasn’t really aware of professional opportunities for women. while I was in college I attempted to find classes and careers that might interest me, but football was really the only thing that ever clicked for me, so when the WPS was founded it was a new fire for me to work towards. Once football was again an option, there wasn’t much else I could think about for my post university plans.
Stout: I formed my dream of becoming a professional when I was 9 years old in 1999. I was watching our US team win the World Cup. I was in awe of the presence that our keeper Briana Scurry had, and I remember thinking I wanted to be like her. And I thought playing a sport as a profession wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Both of you graduated and were originally tied with American clubs before moving overseas. How does a college player end up starting for a European Champions League club?
Fraine: Once I had found my way into the WPS as a draft pick, I must say that the league was mostly a big disappointment for me from there on out. We have all heard the stories and horrors of MagicJack, and during my short time there I can say I wasn’t at all surprised from what I had heard earlier. I spent about a month in South Florida before being released. At the time it was a huge failure and disappointment in my football life, but in hindsight may have been for the best. Not 24 hours later I received a phone call from then Atlanta Beat coach, James Galanis. He offered me an opportunity to try out as one of the three goalkeepers for the team, and I was on the road within 72 hours of leaving West Palm Beach. I never earned a spot on the field during my time there and shortly after decided to look to take my self overseas in order to gain the experience that I needed.
My agent and I looked at many top level teams in Russia and Iceland. In the end, I decided that going down a level in a higher touted country and working towards promotion would be better than settling for a league that, in my opinion, was inferior. I had a strong season with [Swedish club] Malbacken and helped my team get promoted into the Damallsvenskan. Our first year there was filled with ups and downs, taking points away from many big clubs but ultimately being unable to keep up with the level week in, week out. Despite our relegation, I was able to play many outstanding games and show myself as a player to sign.
After the season I was offered contracts by several Swedish teams, including Linköping as well as a top German team, Potsdam. My decision between these two teams became a very challenging choice being that Champions League was a big draw to Germany and LFC had not received one of these spots. In the end I decided on LFC in large part of my enjoying to be apart of a growing team. We were then gifted a spot in Champions League after Tyresso found themselves in financial trouble and were forced to leave the league.
Stout: I had a great career at Western Kentucky and towards the end I had plans to tryout for the WPS. When the WPS ended, my opportunity to play pro domestically was out of the question. I received a call for an opportunity to play for a team in the WPSL in Clermont, Florida. I decided it was the next logical step if I wanted to continue my soccer career. So I graduated college, and the next day drove twelve hours down to Florida and played there for about two months.
I acquired an agent through some helpful recommendations and landed a trial in the first division French league. I made the team and played there a year. During that time I received my first call up to the Under 23 US National Team. Then, because I had National Team experience, I was able to begin the process of getting to England. I finished my French contract in June 2013 and joined LFC in January of 2014. Between the clubs, I helped out a German club who was in need of goalkeeper for the first half of their season. I took that as a chance to keep fit and healthy and prepare for Liverpool. That’s basically a short summary of the events that got me to one of the greatest football clubs in the land.
How does American soccer compare to where you’re playing now? Is there one distinctly better or about the same?
Stout: There aren’t too many differences. I do think that the English game is very tactical. There is a lot of time is spent on that side of the game. American soccer can be more direct, and not have as much of the build up as English football has. Talent-wise, the stereotypical American has quite an athletic upbringing, centered heavily on sports and athletic development. I think, whether male or female, we are trained for sports at a young age which may be why the women’s side has fared as well as it has in the Olympics and World Cup. However, I do think that other countries are catching up as far as early development goes.
Fraine: I get the question between the Swedish league and the American league quite often and usually give about the same answer. For me, the biggest difference between the two is the style in which the game is approached between the two countries. American football is always a very high tempo, with tough fast hard hitting girls. Teams often play a more direct game, relying on set pieces and counter attacks to break teams down. This can be seen through all the different levels both on the men’s side and the women’s side. As Americans, we put a high priority on fitness and strength along with mental toughness and game tactics. Things are done a bit differently in Sweden. We have a much higher focus on technique and building the game from the back all the way through the field. This style of play often slows the game down but can be just as effective against fast teams. In Linköping, we spend a lot of time working on different attacking patterns and defensive shape. In my opinion, both sides could easily learn from one another. The American mentality is something very special. A never quit, never back down, work harder than the other guy, and always believe in yourself type of attitude is something we pride ourselves on, and is very obvious to see in both the men’s and women’s side of the game. That being said, breaking down the game and looking to play a technically strong and tactically creative game is a highly effective way of winning games. So is one better than the other? I think we will get an opportunity to see that at the World Cup this summer!
What are the major differences in European leagues versus American, both inside and surround the club? And how closely does your club operate with the men’s side?
Fraine: As far as the leagues go, I would say that since the league here has been around so much longer, there is more of a pragmatic approach than in the States. Each team has found their own ways of thriving in the top league. Although I would say that as in America, and all around the world, the women’s game is never taken as seriously as the men. We are given similar publicity and media attention as in the United States but the fan base and attention leaves something to be desired.
Our team is connected with the hockey team here in Linköping. We share many of the same facilities and work with many of the same people. However, I must say the business side of it is something I am a bit ignorant about. I would assume its similar to that of the American teams who have teamed up with mens teams but I can’t say for sure.
Stout: Within the clubs, organization, and media the women’s game is taken as seriously as possible. The media and the clubs are doing all that they can in order to build respect and excitement for the women’s game. But certainly we are pioneers for women and that’s a responsibility I take very seriously.
The women’s environment here in England specifically benefits a great deal from the example that the men’s clubs set. Our organization runs as closely to the men’s as possible in regards to professionalism and environment. I wouldn’t say that the players and coaches are more focused per se, but you will see a high level of expectations on an everyday basis, which I believe is quite similar to the US.
We are quite close to the men’s team. In that we wear the same kit, use the same means of transport, attend similar events to them, etc. Liverpool FC has a “One Club Mentality” which really allows us to benefit on a larger scale. It’s really been an amazing club to be a part of and I know I will be a lifelong LFC supporter.
Back in October, you two played in the Round of 32 of the UEFA Champions League. When did you find out you were facing an American goalkeeper in Europe’s premier tournament?
Fraine: Getting a spot in the Champions League was a bit last minute for us. As I said before, we were given the spot after Tyresso was forced to leave the league. When we heard we were slotted to play Liverpool there were a mix of emotions for us. First, of course, there was excitement to play a team that on the men’s side is legendary and on the women’s is creating a legacy of their own. There was also some nervousness in the unknown. Liverpool and the English League were not something that we knew a lot about. After doing research on the team, I noticed the American goalkeeper but didn’t personally know much about her. We read about how strong she had been throughout the season and knew that we were in for a challenge from her. There was another American, Amanda DaCosta, who I was very familiar with. She had spent four years at FSU during the same time I was at Florida, and was always a nuisance on the field. We were both then drafted to MagicJack and were actually roommates during our time there. I immediately got on Facebook to talk a little smack to her and share my excitement at another rematch between the two of us.
Stout: I didn’t know immediately. I think I found out in our tactical meeting where coach said they had an American keeper. I turned to my American teammate Amanda DaCosta who then told me she knew her, and played with and against her. Amanda went to FSU and Katie went to the massive instate rival at the University of Florida. So I was looking forward to meeting Katie and did think it interesting that we were both American keepers facing off on a huge stage.
Liverpool won the first the first leg at home, 2-1. What was the locker room like following the game? How confident were your teams going into the second leg?
Stout: Obviously we were pleased to come away with the win but we definitely knew we had a very tough task ahead going back to their place. They were a really strong side, and I think we caught them a bit off guard when we played at home. But we knew we had a tough road game ahead.
Fraine: Going into England was an extremely stressful time for me. I sustained an injury in a game two days before we flew out for the match against Liverpool. Originally it was believed to be a broken tibia but I spent the evening getting x-rays and ultimately learned the injury wasn’t as serious as expected. However I was out of training until the day before the game when we tested the leg to see if I could play. I was able to do my goalkeeping movements but the ankle was unable to lock out and thus turned me into a left footer if I were play in the game. Our coach and I decided the morning of the match that I would play and wrapped my ankle as tightly as we could.
After the first leg in England the team became refocused very quickly. We had had a tough couple of weeks leading in to the away leg and had three games in ten days to look forward to before the second leg. We felt that going into England we had spent too much time focused on them and what they were going to do that we were pulled out of our game a bit. When we had the home leg upon us we did just the opposite. Everything was about us, what we do well, how we break down defenses and how we win games. We hardly talked about Liverpool before the starting line up was given the night before. On the back of a brilliant hat trick of Fridolina Rolfo we were able to win 3-0 at home and move out of the stage.
How does the Champions League compare to your respective domestic leagues. Is it given the utmost priority or it is more of a distraction?
Fraine: Champions League is a major focus for our team this year. The next round against Brøndby is before our league begins so we are lucky enough to be able to put full focus on those matches. After that, the league must come first for us. We were disappointed with last year’s late fall performance in league play and want to make a push for the top two spots this year. In Damallsvenskan, there are no given matches so the focus must be there each week. However, if and when we are able to move past Brøndby, then the tough matches we play in the season will only help to better prepare us for Europe.
Stout: I’d say as a club we are focused on the tasks at hand. So for us right now, we’re more focused on the league simply because Champions League doesn’t start until October. We know that if we take care of the league games then we have the opportunity for Champions League in the following year. When those games come along we certainly put everything we have into them. I wouldn’t say that we put more importance on either league; I would say that we put an equal importance to each competition.
What’s it like being an American representative overseas?
Fraine: Living abroad is always a fun and interesting experience. Traveling is one of my passions in life and being given an opportunity to completely immerse myself in another culture is once in a lifetime. Swedes are very “hip” on American culture. They listen to a lot of the same music and watch the same movies and shows that we do. Because of this, I always get interesting questions regarding life in the States. Some funny, some strange, and some that just blow my mind. At times, it is hard being a representative of such a large place full of many different cultures. I try my best to convey that my experiences can be completely opposite of others in a similar situation as me, but I don’t always do a great job. I think some of my favorite interactions are when I say something about the US and get the response, “Oh yeah, I saw that on family guy!” Apparently, Seth MacFarlane has given a more accurate depiction of American life than I ever could.
Stout: It is honestly awesome to be a representative of America and my state Kentucky! I absolutely love to talk about home and give people an idea of where I come from. I think I have a big responsibility on my shoulders to represent my country and state in a positive manner. It’s great motivation to have the support from everyone back home and I honestly work hard to do everyone proud. But of all the responses I get when I tell people I’m from Kentucky, “Oh right! Do you eat a lot of chicken?” is the most common, unfortunately!
The USWNT has been struggling, with a recent 2-0 loss to France. What are your thoughts on the USWNT as a whole? Should we be nervous about this upcoming World Cup?
[Author’s note: this question was asked back February, before the start of the Algarve Cup.]
Stout: I believe there is still plenty of time to workout kinks and issues before the World Cup begins in June. I’m really interested to see how they fair in the Algarve Cup here soon. I am hopeful that they will go into the World Cup with something to prove, and get the job done each day they get the opportunity to step out onto the pitch. As far as the goalkeepers, the three they have in their roster are extremely talented. I believe whichever keeper is in the net will get the job done.
Fraine: It comes down to a few factors. The first being the most simple of answers: the rest of the world has come to respect and train woman players more than ever before. As many say, they have “caught up.” This as a whole, for the game and for women’s football in particular, is great. But for the USWNT it means that things have to start to change as well. For a long time, Americans have dominated teams with their size, strength, and speed. As the game has developed elsewhere, we have gotten stuck in this same attitude. The USWNT still has some of the best players in the world but there is much more competition now. In order to stay amongst the best, we have to begin to developing our teams and players differently.
I look at the men’s side and see the changes Klinsmann has made at every level of the national pool and can’t help but think that the woman could benefit from the same sort of treatment. Young players need to be developed and given opportunities to earn caps. The pool should be much larger than it is and a focus on the future must be prioritized as much as the here and now. I read an article recently comparing the road the the world cup for the men with that of the women. In nearly the same amount of games played, the men used fifty-one different players and the women only used twenty-one. The men had no players earn more than twenty caps and the women have had ten players with at least that many. We rely heavily on experience and forget that new players can bring a new dynamic to the team.
The entire squad for the Algarve Cup is made up of players from the NWSL. Do you think being overseas hurts your chances of a call-up? And is there any desire to return to the States in the near future?
Fraine: As for my chances with the national team, I try not to focus too much on it. I believe being in Europe very strongly hurts my chances on getting a call up, especially considering that all of the players currently on the national team who were previously playing abroad have been brought back to the NWSL. However, I continue to work as hard as I can and develop each day. I believe that if the time were to come where I received the call I would be as prepared as possible and perform well at that level. I am happy with my experiences abroad and feel that I have developed here more than I ever would have in the US. I hope to one day play in the states but I’m not sure when I will see that that decision is best for me.
Stout: I do think that being overseas slightly affects my chances. I’m not being seen on a weekly or monthly basis so the odds are less. I am hopeful that I will get a call one day though. I am still relatively young at twenty-four. The current keepers on the US roster are all in late twenties and early thirties. But to be honest, I don’t put my focus on a call-up. I keep my focus on my team here and my own individual training and preparation. All I can affect and control is myself and if I can find growth as an individual and athlete then I consider myself going in a positive direction. Perhaps that direction leads me to more trophies and titles at Liverpool or eventually gives me an opportunity to compete within the National Team. Either way, I’ve always said I would never call this journey a loss if the National Team didn’t come calling at some point. I believe that I can only do my best day in and day out for my club. If I get the opportunity for the US I will certainly put my focus on that and do my best there as well.
One day I would definitely like to play back home in the United States. For me right now, I feel that the day would be towards the end of my career, perhaps spending my last couple years there. I really enjoy the experience and environment of playing abroad. I just think there is no better place to be playing soccer than here in England. I mean, soccer has allowed me to live in four different countries within the last three years. The experiences and memories I have made have affected who I am and have made me a better athlete and person. So I would at this point like to continue playing here for as long as possible with the hopes of getting closer to home one day in the future.