Photo credit:Portuguese Football Federation, 2018 http://www.fpf.pt/pt/News/Todas-as-not%C3%ADcias/Not%C3%ADcia/news/13478
In between deciding where best to pursue a potential Engineering degree, studying for her high school final exams, and practicing with her #3 nationally-ranked team, preparing for the upcoming UEFA Women’s U19 European Championships is the last thing Leanna Rebimbas expected to have on her plate.
Born and raised in New Jersey to Portuguese immigrants, Leanna has always been equally focused on both academics and soccer, unsure which would take her further. A limited number of professional clubs outside the US and a gender pay gap are common problems for high level female youth soccer players. Since the 2015 appointment of current FIFA President Gianni Infantino and subsequent changes made by the governing body of world soccer, the women’s game has made enormous strides. The Federation has now begun mandating that the top clubs in every country create women’s teams. This ruling helps players like Leanna to consider a professional soccer career outside of the US.
Massimo Cedraschi, the Director of Girls Coaching at Princeton Soccer Association and Head Coach of Leanna’s Princeton Premier Elite ’00 team, hails from Italy and is well aware of the increasing desire within European clubs and national teams to bring in female American player, typically known for their physicality and technical soundness.
“The women’s game in Europe is a little behind in terms of development compared to the U.S.” Head Coach Cedraschi says.
At 6 feet tall, athletic and technical on the ball, Coach Cedraschi had no doubt Leanna could contribute. He states, “Teams overseas are always interested in American female players, and because of my connections, arranging a tryout with the team was easy. We are one of the top teams nationally who have a history of developing a number of players for Women’s national teams, and Leanna is one of our best players.”
The Princeton Premier Elite ’00 team currently has 3 players, including Leanna, who play for youth national teams overseas. Remarkably, they have 15 girls on the team who have accepted scholarships from various universities. Leanna’s just committed to Purdue, a university with a nationally-ranked engineering program and although she’s incredibly focused on her education, her dream to play soccer at the highest level, whether it be overseas or in the States, has not changed.
She did not appear in the team's first friendly against Poland, but made her debut in the second half of the rematch two days later. Even though her name was missing from the team's preliminary roster list for qualification for this year’s European Championships, she still hopes to be invited to the final training camp before the tournament starts against Denmark on April 5.
Leanna is well aware of the uphill battle that she faces to make the roster. Not only is she trying to join an already established international team, but she's also the only player outside of Europe, which makes it difficult for coaches to regularly watch her play. She should find encouragement in the recent words of Head Coach Jose Paisana on the newcomers to the team, “It’s always difficult for those who come from an outside context to come here and adapt. However, the players who were here with us knew how to integrate very well.” With the European Championships starting this July, Leanna still has 6 months to not just integrate, but excel.
EDP wishes Leanna the best of luck.
Portuguese Football Federation, 2018 http://www.fpf.pt/pt/News/Todas-as-not%C3%ADcias/Not%C3%ADcia/news/13478