NJ/NY Gotham defender Gina Lewandowski is finally hanging up her boots after an illustrious career. Lewandowski attended Lehigh University to begin her soccer journey. She was offered tryouts in Germany in 2007 before making it her home for the next 12 years. She later returned to the U.S. in 2019 for a spot in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), where she found her home with Gotham FC. On July 2, Lewandowski will be making her final appearance on the pitch as a player.
From Pennsylvania to Germany
Lewandowski is from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and later attended Lehigh University. Playing soccer in the Patriot League was something she looked for from a soccer standpoint. She enjoyed the team at Lehigh and the coach at the time helped her confirm that it was the right fit for her.
"I wanted the academics to be a high standard but also the soccer as well," she said. Before attending college, Lewandowski had no intentions of going pro. With no league in place to look to, she was left with the thought that after college, she would have to get a real job.
I think we just took another step forward to creating a professional environment, better standards for the players for the club and an environment where we can be successful both on the field and off the field.
During her senior year, her perspective of life after college changed. Lewandowski said, "It wasn't until my senior year where I was like, I don't want to get a real job. I want to keep playing soccer." Her assistant coach then gave her the idea that she should play overseas. She pushed the thought aside but then realized that it was something she was willing to try.
In January of 2007, Lewandowski visited her family in Germany with one of her friends. Her friend gave her the idea to take the step and play in Germany. It all fell into place when a family member reached out to an agent. "This vision ended up becoming a reality," she said. She had no idea what to expect from there on out, but she took a leap of faith and went to Germany. She had a couple of tryouts with Frankfurt over the summer and made the team in July 2007.
Germany is Home
Upon arriving in Germany, Lewandowski knew that in order to be successful, she would have to have a decent understanding of the language. She got a private tutor on her own and even enrolled in a community college. "I went to school from nine to 12, three times a week," Lewandowski said. The team didn't force her to use the language, but she said they were accommodating and supportive in the process. They even gave her a sheet of paper that listed soccer-specific words for her to use during the games.
Chelsea FC's Christian Pulisic joins Alex Morgan (Olympique Lyonnais), Ali Krieger (Frankfurt), and Gina Lewandowski (Frankfurt) as the only Americans to win the UEFA Champions League! 🏆🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/q07DnFqwBV
— Women's International Champions Cup (@iccwomen) May 29, 2021
In her first year with Frankfurt, the team won the treble, meaning the team won the Frauen-Bundesliga league title, the German Cup, and the UEFA Women's Cup (UEFA Women's Champions League). To win the treble as a first-year player is simply incredible. At the time, Lewandowski played with current teammate Ali Krieger on the trophy-winning team. The team was jam-packed with star players from the German National Team. "We had maybe seven or eight national team players on the German National Team and I realized, oh my gosh like their girls are good," she said. The team's consistency allowed them to be as successful as they were.
After a short stint in the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league, Lewandowski returned to Germany to sign with Bayern Munich. She wanted to explore her options in other leagues around Europe and ultimately had the chance to play for Bayern. "I just think I needed a new niche. I needed a change and a new experience, just like kind of expand my horizons," she said. After visiting Bayern, she realized it was definitely a place she wanted to be. During her time at Bayern, the team won the league for the first time in 2015 and again the following year.
Servus Gina! 👋❤️🤗
Gina Lewandowski @gll088 nimmt nach der Saison 2018/2019 Abschied vom #FCBayern und kehrt zu ihrer Familie in die USA zurück: https://t.co/1f5f5ugcxS 🔴⚪️ #MiaSanMia #FCBFrauen pic.twitter.com/7oHYDuMe79
— FC Bayern Frauen (@FCBfrauen) April 30, 2019
When she arrived at Bayern, the team was in sixth place at the time, and they played on a farm field. The team had none of the resources they do now, but their coach at the time had a great vision of getting the team to the next level. "He brought us in and motivated us and brought in some players that had the same vision and personality," she said, referencing her coach. They were almost like the underdogs, but the more successful they became, the more attention they had from the men's side. The men's side did invest in them, providing better facilities, resources and medical staff and even became more attractive for international players.
I just think I needed a new niche. I needed a change and a new experience, just like kind of expand my horizons.
Lewandowski's career in Germany was definitely been one full of accolades. Something she misses about playing in the country is the soccer culture. "It was just soccer all the time and part of me loved it because I grew so much as a player," she said. After playing in Germany for 12 years, Lewandowski made the decision to come back to the States.
Back on U.S. Soil
Before her return back to the United States, Lewandowski was called up for the USWNT in 2015. She took the opportunity but soon realized that to be a consistent member, she would likely have to uproot her life and play in the NWSL. "I didn't want to give up everything I had in Germany for a small chance. So I continued to stay in Germany longer, but I don't regret it and I'm a better player and a better person because of playing longer in Germany," she said.
With her Bayern contract ending in 2019, she was conflicted on whether or not to stay in Germany for another season or come home. Her dad and stepdad were not physically well then, so she ultimately decided to be closer to her family. Once Sky Blue found out she was released from her Bayern contract and was coming home, they reached out to her for a chance to play on the team. "It's closer to home it's about an hour away and I can be closer to my dad and stepdad and just have the opportunity for them to see me play," she said.
NEWS | Sky Blue FC Signs Veteran Defender Gina Lewandowski
— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) May 7, 2019
She was a bit hesitant on whether or not she would like the playing style in America. The Sky Blue coach flat out told her that the team was not like an organization with as high a caliber as Bayern Munich was. Lewandowski just wanted to play, which earned her the spot on Sky Blue's roster. "It was such a blessing because those were the last games my dad could see live," she said. She then said that Sky Blue sparked a whole new motivation in her and joy of the game.
The first year at Sky Blue was not the best it could've been. The team finished second to last, a step up from their previous standing of last in the league. "We finished second to last and when I got there I was like let's celebrate we didn't get last," she said.
In 2020 when the pandemic hit, there was a bit of uncertainty surrounding what the league would do. The inaugural Challenge Cup came into being in the summer of that year. Sky Blue ended up advancing to the semifinals of the Challenge Cup. "I think we kind of made our mark on the league and said, hey we're here to stay," she said. Lewandowski even mentioned the team making it to the quarterfinals of the league playoffs. "I think we just took another step forward to creating a professional environment, better standards for the players for the club and an environment where we can be successful both on the field and off the field," she said.
To sum up her career in one word, Lewandowski said she was grateful.
While in Germany, Lewandowski completed her UEFA B license, and last year she had the opportunity to complete the B license course in the U.S. "I knew coaching was always a passion of mine," she said. Once she retires, coaching plans are definitely in her future. She also has a small business on the side that focuses on mentoring athletes on the physical and mental aspects of the game. When talking about the future of soccer, she said, "I'm excited to see where the game goes."
To watch Gina Lewandowski in her final matches with Gotham FC, visit their website for ticket and schedule information.