In any professional sport, every team has talent and that can get you a certain amount of wins. But, when it comes to the postseason or tournament play, veteran leadership becomes vital and plays a large part in a club’s success or failure. For Sky Blue FC, they have veteran Gina Lewandowski to help guide them through single-elimination soccer in the NWSL Challenge Cup.
The central defender knows how to win when the stakes are high. She has a Champions League trophy and multiple Bundesliga titles from her time in Germany with Frankfurt and Bayern Munich. And, no, she is not related to current Bayern star, world-class striker Robert Lewandowski, but she admits that she has to explain that often. (She has met him though as you can see below.)
With that high-level experience and success, what is Gina’s advice to her younger teammates about dealing with the pressure of the knockout stage? “Unfortunately pressure will always be there and will never go away. Pressure can also bring a level of excitement to the game as well but it is how we view it that matters,” she told BGN. “I believe it is important that each person learns how to accept it in their own way and play with it to the best of their ability. Each person is different but I think going back to just enjoying the game, not thinking so much and going on your instincts will really help.”
“Also, not getting too upset when things don’t pan out the way we would like. There is always a lesson we can learn from each challenge and those are what will ultimately make us even better players.”
When it comes to her leadership style, Gina prefers to let her actions do the speaking. “I believe every veteran player can bring something to the game,” she said. “Each veteran has had their own journey and experiences and has learned valuable things throughout their career that can be passed onto the next generations. I am more of a motivator by example, always have been, so I won’t try to say any motivating speeches anytime soon.”
Lewandowski’s own soccer journey began in Pennsylvania. She was born and raised in the Keystone State and stayed close to home when she became a star at Lehigh University, winning multiple Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year honors. Describing some underrated parts of her home state, Gina said, “I think there are a lot of cute towns in PA that many people don’t necessarily see or hear about, but when traveling through you do come across some nice towns with a variety of fun things to do.”
Growing up in a working class state like Pennsylvania also gave Lewandowski an important set of values. “I think I have learned a lot about hard work growing up, never taking anything for granted, and always enjoying what I am doing,” she explained. “That was at least what my family and social community tried to instill in me.”
She’s definitely enjoying the NWSL Challenge Cup run for her squad. After an upset win over the Washington Spirit in the quarterfinals, Sky Blue FC are on to the semifinals to face the Chicago Red Stars on Wednesday. “We are very excited to be heading into the semifinals. This team/club has put so much work in on and off the field and you can feel a great chemistry within the team, both on and off the field as well,” Lewandowski said. “We all are proud to be a part of this club and want to show that on the field together, as one unit.”
Lewandowski has played every minute of the tournament so far, tallying 24 clearances, nine interceptions, and completing 86.6% of her passes. When Sky Blue FC play Chicago at Rio Tinto Stadium, their veteran leader at center-back will likely play a major role if they earn a trip to the NWSL Challenge Cup final.