Former Arizona soccer player Charlotte Brascia turned a dream into reality last spring when she signed with Sweden’s Skövde KIK, becoming one of the first Wildcats to go pro.
Brascia started in all 20 games at Arizona last season, scoring a career-high three goals including a game-winner against Washington, which she says was one of her most fond memories at the UA. The other was reaching the Sweet 16 in 2015 as a sophomore.
Brascia’s senior class became the first in UA history to reach the NCAA Tournament three times, and in March I talked to her about the decision to continue her career in Sweden. That story can be found here.
The Las Vegas native headed overseas in July and Skövde KIK started their season in August. They are currently undefeated through four games, sitting in third place in their league’s standings. Brascia has scored twice.
I caught up with her to follow up on her move to Skövde, a city of about 35,000 located 3.5 hours southwest of Stockholm. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Q. How has the transition been to Sweden so far?
“It’s been OK. The first couple weeks were a little rough. We were exhausted from being very jet-lagged and trying to find our way around. We, the American players, were basically on our own, so it was like fend for yourself, figure it out. We didn’t know what to expect. But now I’m used to the time change (nine hours) and I’m actually with my host family now which is where I’m going to be for the next two months.”
Q. Where were you staying before that?
“The first three or four weeks, our recruiter was on vacation so he was staying at his beach house for four weeks and they got us a rental car for us to share and we just stayed there. Me and Kellie Peay shared a room and the other girls shared a room. … We basically had a house to ourselves. And then after that, they were struggling finding us host families. That’s why we were unsettled and freaking out. Now we’re staying with the parents of two girls on our team. They live with their boyfriends. Everyone lives with their boyfriends at a really young age here, so everyone’s moved out of the house. Their dad is really close to our recruiter and they were happy to have us. They’re the best family I’ve ever met. I’m so lucky.”
Q. How many American players are on your team?
“It’s me, Kellie (from Santa Clara), Meagan Harbison from Pepperdine and Holly Neshat from Columbia.”
Q. What’s your daily routine like there?
“Every day here they do this thing called fika, which is like a coffee break and you do it with a pastry or a sandwich. I don’t have anything to do in the mornings — we don’t train until night because some of the girls are still in school right now — so basically everyday I wake up around 10. My host family does fika everyday at 10:30 and it’s on a dairy farm so it’s definitely not L.A. or Tucson, but I actually love it so much and it’s so different.
“So we have fika and then we usually go to the gym in the middle of the day, come back, eat, relax for a little bit and then go to practice and our practice ends at like 8:30. So literally all I do is soccer. I can’t work, there’s else nothing to do. I’ve been looking at jobs to apply to when I get back home, but that’s pretty much it. It’s eat, breathe, soccer.”
Q. So if you live on farm, is it essentially in the middle of nowhere?
“It’s like 15 minutes from town. It’s kinda nice because the town is busy, but it’s also kind of a hassle getting to the gym. It’s like 15 minutes there and back. The other girls live closer to town and walk everywhere. ... But it’s honestly really cool and different. I was really open to the experience. You put me in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, what was I going to say? No? I went into it blind and now that I have my feet under me and I know where I’m going and what it’s like and what my schedule is, I really love it.”
Q. What’s the style of play like over there?
“Honestly, I was shocked. When we first got here, it was very direct. The other teams like to play very direct and I was used to that. Freshman year (at Arizona) we used to play like that. I didn’t mind it, but then our coach realized that Kellie and the two other Americans play midfield and I play center forward, so we can connect through the middle. We don’t need to play direct. All the other teams play direct and every now and then a long ball is fine, but we do high press, we play 4-3-3 so it’s not very different. ... Some of our training sessions are similar to what Tony (Amato) would do (at Arizona), so it’s good that I’m used to that.
“But I will say it’s very aggressive. The tackles and things they get away with here, they would never get away with in America. It’s so crazy. The first scrimmage that we played, our coach warned us that it’s a lot different. I was like ‘whatever, I’ll be fine.’ Then I got knocked on my butt. Some girl just came and hit me out of nowhere. I fell on my back and I was like ‘oh my God he wasn’t kidding.’ It’s really aggressive. I don’t what it is, but then when you get fouled it’s such a scene. Everyone freaks out and cries. It’s so dramatic.”
Q. Are there older players in the league, too?
“Our centerback, she’s from Iceland. She’s really good. She’s 32. She’s a mom. She has two kids. She’s married. It’s crazy. But I just turned 22 two days ago, so I’m one of the younger 20-year-olds. Everyone is like 21 and above. I think someone is like 23 or 24. And then the younger girls are like 17, 18-ish.”
Q. What’s the language barrier like?
“It’s not as bad as I thought. The most difficult thing would be when we go to grocery store, reading stuff. We went the first time and had no idea what we were getting.
“The girls on the team mostly speak English. Our coach is from Iceland so he talks very slowly in English. It’s very hard for him to gather his thoughts and say what he needs to say, but he does get his point across. And now that we’ve been here for a month, he’ll say things in Swedish and I can understand it.
“Kellie and I were told that our host family didn’t speak very good English, so we were like ‘we’re screwed.’ We understand them, but Google Translate is definitely a big part of my life now.”
Q. Other than the grocery store incident, when did you have that ‘I’m in Sweden’ moment?
“At our first day of practice they were like, ‘do you want to go to the lake after?’ I was like, what do you mean? It’s going to be 8:30 at night.
“But it was still light out and we walked so far into the woods and jumped in the lake and it hit me that I’m in Sweden right now, swimming in a lake after soccer practice. I was in shock. It was a few days in, but that was the moment I was like ‘wake up, you’re not at home.’”
Q. What is Skövde like?
“It’s pretty small. Rush-hour traffic is nothing like L.A. or even Tucson. But everyone knows everyone. Everyone goes to the same shopping center, the same stores. It’s really conservative. People are really respectful and nice. When I start speaking English, everyone’s like ‘oh you’re American’ and ask you what you’re doing here in this small town in Sweden. But there’s a little downtown area where you can walk around and shop. There’s tons of coffee shops. Fika is a huge thing. I love it because I have like five cups of coffee a day. I’m going to be screwed when I come back to America.”
Q. So when you tell people around town that you’re a professional soccer player, what’s their reaction?
“They think it’s cool. They understand because the men’s team plays at the field we play at. And it’s an event. If there’s a handball game or a hockey game, there’s a lot of people that go. In the papers after the game, they have a spread about if we won, how the game went, so it’s cool.”
Note: Skövde KIK plays at Södermalms IP, a stadium near the city center that has a capacity of 4,646. “It’s nice!” Brascia later said in a text. “Has a shade over the seating and also away seating.”
Q. On your off days (usually Wednesday and Sundays) you travel to different places. Where have you been so far?
“We went to Smögen, which is on the coast. It’s beautiful. We heard there was great fish and it was small so we walked around and there was a beach area. It’s definitely not a California beach, but it’s pretty rocky and the ocean was so clear.
“And then we went to Hjo and it’s almost like a lake. It’s pretty. Also really small. They have small towns everywhere that you can go to. And then this past Wednesday we went to Gothenburg which is a bigger city. There’s so much to do. And then Saturday, we are going to Stockholm after our game.”
Q. Looking back at your time at Arizona, what was the most important thing you learned as a student-athlete?
“Probably the resources that I had there. I am so grateful that I had everything that I did. The one thing that I learned is to not take that for granted. Here, we have a clubhouse and it’s not that different, but I don’t have a (team trainer) that I can go to and get all the treatment I want or go to (Arizona strength and conditioning coach) Jim (Krumpos) and say ‘can you give me a good workout?’ It’s not the same at all, so I’m very appreciative for what I had at Arizona.”
Q. Is it still hard to process that you’re a pro player?
“It’s so natural when you start playing again, but it still feels like I really accomplished something. I feel like now that I’ve been here for a month I’m starting to love it, and I know this was the right decision and I’m so happy I decided to come. It does feel really good to say that I came and played professionally overseas. Even if I don’t decide to play after, it will be a great experience overall.”
Q. Yeah, so what is next after this season? Are you going to keep playing? (Brascia is scheduled to return to the U.S. on Oct. 22)
“We do three months, like a tourist visa. If I decide to play after, our coaches and recruiter have some connections. … I think there are higher divisions that you can play in in Sweden. I actually know a few girls that are playing closer to Stockholm. But I have no idea. So much could change in the next two months.
“I’m always going to keep my options open to soccer. Now that I’ve adjusted to it and I’m starting to love it and love traveling and my life being soccer again, it’s definitely a possibility. There’s also sometimes after I play or practice that I’m so sore and my body hates me no matter what I do. So I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few months. I could get injured. But I’m always willing to play especially when I’m young. If someone called me up and asked if I want to play, I’d be like ‘yeah, tell me when and where.’”