Monday, September 8, 2008
TAMPA, FL -- After playing in the afternoon the previous two days of the combine, it was an early start on Sunday so that the players could have one final opportunity to impress the WPS coaches on hand before returning to their home towns. One player already well known to most in attendance was Freedom midfielder and former Australian international Kele Golebiowski, our final UBS Player Profile of the Day.
Kele Golebiowski interview video [+]
At 27 years of age, Golebiowski is a veteran of the game beyond that of most of her peers at the same age. In 1995, the same year the W-League was launching here in the United States, she became the youngest player in Australian women’s soccer history to play for the senior national team. Three years later when the likes of current US internationals like Abby Wambach and Lindsey Tarpley were playing in the W-League as teenagers, she already had several years of international experience, going on to play in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the United States.
“I was kinda thrown into the deep end at a young age and I had to grow up really quickly in terms of grow up as a human being as well as a soccer player,” Golebiowski described of her teenage years. “I liked the taste of it when I was there that young and I continued my career on. I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve done my whole soccer career. Everything I did to play in the World Cups and Olympics was what I wanted to do and I achieved that. I don’t regret any of what I had to give up or stop to get there.”
In 2001, the established 20-year old veteran of the Matildas took a chance, leaving her homeland for the United States and a spot with the Hampton Roads Piranhas. As many would have projected giving her international career, success was not hard for her to find, earning the W-League Rookie of the Year honor that season and eventually finding her way to the Washington Freedom of the WUSA in 2003.
“I took a chance on a team back in Hampton Roads, who took a chance on bringing me over not knowing me or seeing me play - based on the internet or here say from other coaches. And that chance paid off and I got to play professionally for one year. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my career.”
“It took me from playing club soccer in Australia to the US, and I’ve lived here ever since. Well, not lived here ever since, but come here every summer since… to play here either in the W-League or the WUSA; hopefully now this new league.”
With the return of the Freedom as members of the W-League two years ago, Golebiowski had a perfect avenue to continue to prepare herself for another run at playing professionally in the United States just as she had done previously with the Piranhas. And it proved to be the right fit.
“It’s been beneficial for me obviously to be with such an organization,” she said of Jim Gabarra’s side. “They’ve built the foundations to continue, everything in between. [After the WUSA] there were some girls where things were up in the air for them and they didn’t know who they could play for and where, and I’ve just had that outlet the whole entire time so it’s made things a lot easier for me, and made a lot of my decisions easier for me. I’ve always wanted to come back and play for the Freedom and they’ve always wanted me to come back and play, so I’ve had that outlet, which has been very helpful.”
“I’m committed to wanting to play here. I’ve made it my second home. I’ve made a lot of connections and met a lot of people and coaches and players here, and I enjoy the way you guys treat soccer here. It’s very different to home. I’m not saying its bad there, but you guys treat women’s soccer a lot differently.”
That commitment led to the W-League Combine, where she is among 128 hopefuls also looking to earn a spot in the new league and could make a return to the pro ranks in the US more difficult than perhaps expected.
“It was a little bit difficult,” she said about how things have started at the combine for everyone. “Getting to know a group of players where you have to learn their name before you get to learn how they play in a short space of time. I think, everyone’s doing alright considering the quick turnaround between games and not knowing a lot of people and how they play. It’s as best as can be expected. It’s good soccer.”
When the WUSA came to its unfortunate end in 2003, Golebiowski’s days of playing alongside US legend Mia Hamm came to an end, but the WPS will bring a whole new generation of players and group of international stars to the forefront that she looks forward to playing with or against. She wouldn’t name anyone specifically, but was looking forward to the opportunity as a whole.
“A lot of the US players, you know, against or as a teammate, but then also some of the international players - obviously, the Germans and Brazilians, some of the Swedish girls. They’ve all made names for themselves in the last World Cup and Olympics that just went by. It’s gonna make it an exciting league when they come over to play here.”
But as great as the anticipation is for playing with and against those stars, Golebiowski has even greater ambitions beyond playing in the league. After playing in two World Cups and an Olympic tournament, the past few years she has taken time away from the national team, although she continues to switch living in both countries to avoid winters. Now, 14 years after making her historic debut, she will be looking to work her way back into the fold for the Matildas.
“I was on hold for the last two years and I’m looking now once this league (WPS) comes and hopefully I can get to play in it and break back into the national team. I’ve had my break from it and now I’m ready to push my way back in.”
She may be a needed addition to the Australian squad, who found themselves falling short of qualifying out of the Asian confederation for the Olympics after a fantastic showing in the Women’s World Cup the year before.
Regardless of where her career takes her over the next five to ten years, she will certainly have a unique set of experiences and a knowledge base of the game that will be beneficial for future generations of players, perhaps even Americans.
“I wanna stay here and hopefully coach. I’m not sure at what level or where exactly, but that’s the thought that I’ve come up with so far or the plan to come back here after my career and give back to the game that’s given to me so much. I’d like to do it in Australia or here, but it seems there is a lot more opportunity here. I’m hoping to come back and coach or be in a development program somewhere.”
Even at 27, the role of being a leader has, voluntarily or not, often fallen on the shoulders of the humble star.
“Playing for your national team and in the WUSA and so on, there’s experience that comes with that and a lot of players do look for [leadership] from me, but at the same time you gotta let them know I’m human as well. I’m the same as you. You can learn from me, I can still learn from you.”
Given her career, it’s probably fair to say, that most people aren’t really the same as Kele Golebiowski.