Nikki Krzysik’s wandering path back to pro soccer—Philly, San Diego, Poland and Kansas City

Tim Grainey December 26, 2013 64

Nikki Krzysik (left) recently began play with Poland. She'll play for FC Kansas City in 2014. (Photo: www.poznan.sport.pl / Hanna Urbaniak)

Nikki Krzysik is an experienced professional soccer defender who played three years in WPS for Chicago and Philadelphia, captaining the latter and twice finishing as league runner-up during the Independence’s two seasons in the league.

After WPS’ demise, she followed Paul Riley—now the new Portland Thorns head coach—to the New York Fury in WPSL Elite in 2012 and then played the past season for the WPSL’s San Diego SeaLions for family reasons, despite being selected in the NWSL supplemental draft by the Seattle Reign.

Krzysik’s rights were traded midseason to FC Kansas City for forward Renae Cuellar, who is now with Washington Spirit after an offseason trade. Krzysik, signed with Kansas City for 2014, could be one of the acquisitions of the season for the Blues. She is excited to reunite with a number of her former teammates in Kansas City, including defender Becky Sauerbrunn — from her University of Virginia days — and from her Philadelphia days with goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, defender Leigh Ann Robinson, midfielder Jen Buczkowski and forward Sinead Farrelly.

With U.S. youth international team experience, it’s not a surprise that Krzysik is a full international, but it is surprising that she is not capped by the U.S. but with Poland. She currently has five full international caps with the Polish national team, which she joined this summer. Her path to the international side is part fortuitous and part seizing an opportunity.

Krzysik’s father was born in Poland, where the family owns some land and for succession purposes, he wanted her to receive Polish citizenship to keep it as a family legacy. During that process, she was approached by Apollon of Cyprus, and played with them during their UEFA Champions League qualifying campaigns this fall. Having a European passport is important to any European club because then—as an American—she doesn’t take up an import spot. She was also approached by Dariusz Nicinski, the father of midfielder Evelyn Nicinski, who was born in Brooklyn and will be a senior this coming fall at Bucknell University and has played for Poland at the U-19 and full national team level.

Nicinski wondered if Krzysik was interested in playing for Poland. With her passport finally in hand, Krzysik joined the team for two friendlies this summer and has been starting during their current 2015 World Cup UEFA qualifying tournament (where they are 2-0-2 for six points after four games). Drawn in Group 4 with European power Sweden, Poland is in a battle with Scotland for second place and a chance for a playoff (between the four best second-place teams in the seven groups) to land a spot in Canada 2015.

The other nations in the group are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands. If Poland can win out among those three nations and can gain a result against Scotland away in April and Sweden at home in August, they still have a realistic chance to make their first major tournament.

Krzysik is still learning the Polish language, but said it has not impeded her ability to gel with teammates.

“On the soccer field, there is really no language barrier,” she said. “Playing with one another and understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses has been something we’ve worked through this fall and been successful at.”

At age 26, Krzysik finds that she is one of the older players on the national team and that youth is a base to build on in a quest to make their first major finals—a European Championship, Olympics or Women’s World Cup. Poland are the reigning UEFA U-19 champions and the top talent from that team—including Evelyn Nicinski—is being integrated into the full side.

“I really am excited about the way Polish soccer is going on the women’s side, and to see the youth come through and help the veteran players to play on a big stage one day,” Krzysik said.

Krzysik and Nicinski are the only diaspora players that head coach Wojciech Basiuk have brought in, but Krzysik said that “he likes the idea of bringing multicultural ideas into the game, without taking anything away from being Polish or the integrity of that.” Sometimes, when diaspora are brought into a national team of their parents or grandparents birth, there can be friction between the ‘true native players’ and ‘imports,’ but Krzysik was welcomed into the team.

She sees continued success in the World Cup qualifiers as benefiting the younger players.

“Poland has not had the opportunity to grab attention in international soccer—individually the youth players are coming up. We’re still very, very young and hopefully as we start building as a team and start playing against these other countries, the opportunity for Polish players to go to other countries is very realistic.”

There are a few players in the national team pool who are playing abroad. First-choice goalkeeper Katarzyna Kiedrzynek plays with Paris Saint-Germain in France and her backup, Daria Antonczyk, is with Ajax in the Netherlands. Defender Jolanta Siwinska and midfielder Patrycja Pozerska play in the Frauen-Bundesliga 2 with Hohen Neuendorf. Midfielder Marta Stobba and forward Agnieszka Winczo play for recently promoted Frauen-Bundesliga side Cloppenburg.

Krzysik felt that the Polish domestic league is fine for the younger players who are still in school but after they are 18 or 19, she hopes their improved play will help provide opportunities to grow in leagues abroad, playing against those with more experience. The 10-team Ekstraliga Kobiet in Poland is dominated by Unia Raciborz, who have won the last five titles in a row and field Equatorial Guinea World Cup midfielder Gloria Chinasa Okoro, who was born in Nigeria but then naturalized by the small, oil-rich African nation. This year, Unia Raciborz has a battle in store to retain their title, as they trail Medyk Konin by five points (27 to 22) after nine games.

Krzysik won a WPSL crown last summer with the San Diego SeaLions, a strong organization which had sometimes as many as 30 players showing up at practice. Krzysik has experience in both WPSL and the USL W-League and feels that there are players in both leagues who could play professionally. She feels that the two amateur leagues are “a stable foundation for players in college or out of college.” She is looking forward to playing full-time again and practicing every day, which will combine well with her international appearances. Among some potential new allocations from the U.S., Canada and Mexico—to be named soon—as well as new international signings, Krzysik’s addition to the league will be an asset to FC Kansas City and Poland.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to The Equalizer. His latest book, “Beyond Bend it Like Beckham”, was released last year.

  • luke

    OMG Ewa Pajor on Equalizer! :-) )))
    That player to the right is U-17 2013 UEFA Champion, Young UEFA POTY 2013, 17yo football phenom, Polish Messi aka Polish CR7, Ewa Pajor!
    After she won 2013 U17 euro, she debuted on Polish full NT at the age of 16, starting vs Scotland in WC qualifier (!), and she was our best player.
    Kid plays for top tier club Medyk Konin, leader of Polish div 1, couple of top European clubs have already proposed her contracts, but she declined for now, intending to finish high school. She’s is a beast!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vL0j5HJ30HU

    • Steglitz49

      It would be great it the Polish lasses made it to Canada. They have their work cut out for themselves for sure but all the best to them.

      BTW as a curiosity, seeing that Sweden is in the same group, for a few years in the 16th century Poland and Sweden was one kingdom but it did not last.

      • Sobieski

        Vasa imperialists were quite busy in those days.

        • Steglitz49

          I think it was by inheritance. He was not expected to be in line for the thrones but ended up being. Something like that. Maybe Harjeet knows? She was in Sweden this summer after all.

          • luke

            Of course he was expected to be in line, Zygmunt III was legitimate heir. He took over the throne, appointed the regent and came back to Poland. After couple of years luteran regent instigated rebellion and dethronised him.

          • Steglitz49

            You forget the pea-soup. The role of soup in the history of womankind is much underrated, not just the fogs of London.

          • cynic

            He wasn’t excpected to get the Swedish throne until his uncle went mad and was dethronized thus making his father King and him heir also to Sweden

      • luke

        Bad bad Pia has no respect for history… ;)

      • cynic

        It was never one Kingdom but they did have the same king for a time until he was thrown out of Sweden by his uncle for not having the “true Lutheran faith” followed by several wars between Sweden and Polans until the Vasa dynasti have perished in both

        • Steglitz49

          It is worth being mindful that Poland in those days included a big chunk of the Ukraine, parts of Slovakia and the Czech republic and Lithunaia, while Sweden also was Finland plus a few other bits and bobs. In short, the combined kingdom would have been mega.

          The differences between the two nations were unbridgeable. The Swedes had always been free while Poland was feudal. In the 13th century Birger Jarl had promlugated laws in Sweden that protected the weak against the strong, including women, which had been upheld and expanded by his son, while in the 15th century Engelbrekt had led a revolt to protect those rights and freedom for Swedes. On top of this for a while Poland had been Protestant but had been reclaimed to the Catholic, while Sweden had remained Protestant.

          Nevertheless, one wonders how European history had developed had these countries been united. In short, Sigismund threw away a golden opportunity, more to the detriment of the Poles than Swedes.

          • luke

            Poland had never been protestant, what are you talking about? :-)

          • Steglitz49

            For a period during the 16th century Poland essentially was protestant. The Bible was translated in 1563 (the Swedish had appeared in 1541 and the Danish in 1550) and in 1573 a law forbidding discrimination because of religion was introduced. The Catholic church took action and when Sigismund bcame king in 1587 he threw his weight beind and the country quickly was Catholic again by 1595.

            Slovenia is a country for which translating the Bible had a bigger impact than Poland. If you get a Slovenian Euro coin into your hand, please look at it carefully because the man engraved on it made Slovenia possible. They were really three or four but he was the central figure.

            Sloveina became a nation because it had a language and it had a written language because for about 50 years in the 16th century it was Protestant, not Catholic. To translate the Bible and other works, and write hymns even profane poetry, those Slovenian had to create a written language including an alphabet, a grammar and spell-check. As a result the Slovenians not only spoke but wrote in their own language. Eventually, the Catholic Church rolled back in and reasserted itself. But. The language survived.

            Slovenia is not yet well known in women’s soccer but best for its skiers like Tina Maze, Petra Majdic and Teja Gregorin. Happy New Year!

          • luke

            No, it wasn’t. There was never a period, year, month, week, day, hour or minute in Polish history when masses would have been be protestant. Never.
            Translated bible, protestant high officials or tolerant acts have nothing to do with Polish nation’s faith as a whole.
            Please, stop this nonsence, thx in advance.

          • Steglitz49

            I hope that Poland is awarded Euro-17 because, now that Japan has declined to bid for WC-19, that almost certainly will go to France. Poland has the stadia and their ladies are developing by leaps and bounds.

            Indeed, by WC-19, the Polish lasses could be the Nadeshiko of Europe. Ms Kowalczyk can take charge of the fitness training and Ms Palka the shooting, while Euro-17 would put pressure on the Polish FA to support their ladies, like the president of Brazil is doing and Merkel once did for Germany.

          • luke

            Would I love to see UEFA/FIFA women’s tourney in my country? You bet I would!
            But I don’t think it should be played in those new stadiums you have in mind, build for Euro 2012. To make matches look decent, i think it should be filled at 1/3 of capacity at least, ergo ~10.000ppl.
            And to be honest, even with all the buzz that Polish U17 have made this year, I doubt these numbers are attainable.
            I think youth ournament should take place in smaller stadiums 5-15 thousand large. There are some beautiful places, like for example, Cracovia’s stadium.

          • Steglitz49

            As you may have noticed long ago, few if any of the commentators seem to care about ladies football. Instead they are at best believers in the USA and at worst obsessed about certain player(s). I find it hard to take seriously.

            Thus, I have tried to educate readers of the Equalizer about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet, the mild cigar — was an advertising slogan about 40-50 years ago. These days of non-smoking bars, who knows what makes people happy?

            Regarding Euro-13, it was in terms of attendance the most successful to date. It was so inspite of the Swedish FA, not because of them. The people made it a success. Power to the people! Go get Euro-17. Poland can do it; Swedes can help! Margaret the Great rules OK! Happy New Year!

          • luke

            Happy New Year Steg!

            It will be an interesting one! :)

          • cynic

            It would most likely have had a huge impact. The Swedish empires weakness was it’s poverty in people and money the Polish the lack of centralization and an efficient well organized non-feudal administration. And since Sweden was probably the best organized country in Europe at the time and Poland one of if not the riches (at least if not counting income from the New World that made Spain rich) and one of the most populous one If they manged a merge the result would have had a huge impact.
            And it would certainly had been bad news for Russia since their main rivals in those days where Poland and Sweden.
            And Russia’s ability to grow strong was partly a result of the long quarrel between Sweden and Poland resulting from the botched merger.

          • Steglitz49

            It is an odd fact that Sigismund died in the same year as his cousin Gustavus Adolphus. By then Sweden was well on the way to becoming a great power. In 1809 Russia took Finland but Sweden got Norge in compensation. Given all that oil, it is a pity for Sweden that the union did not last! Poland’s history became more complex.

            In 1397 Margaret the Great had united all the Nordic countries into the Kalmar union, total population ca 3m. Sadly, her successor had none of Margarete’s skills and the union fell apart because the Swedes would not accept serfdom but instead led by Engelbrekt fought for their rights and freedoms granted them in the mid 1200s.

            Given how much more populous and wealthy Poland was compared to Sweden-Finland, it is not surprising that Sigismund chose the to him simpler option. Yet he could not have been unaware of the fate of what Margaret built and, closer in time, the Dutch war of independence ought to have given him food for thought.

            To bring it back to women’s soccer, Seattle’s arms remind me of Margaret the Great. She is buried in a splendid tomb immediately behind the high altar in Roskilde Cathedral, in the place where a saint’s shrine should be. She is one of the great women in history.

    • JAMES

      She’s good in this video.

      • Steglitz49

        Would that NCAA coaches please take note!

  • martiunka

    Great article on Krzysik and polish women’s soccer. Can’t wait to see her in NWSL.

    • Steglitz49

      Maybe one of the great soccer universities in the NCAA could offer Ms Pajor a scholarship. Where would you advise her to go?

      I would favor Berkeley or Stanford but the other day I noticed that a lass from Harvard has been selected for the US U20, so Beantown could be as good a bet. Chicago is too obvious and ND is full of Irish even if they are Catholic (though I have not the foggiest which path Ms Pajor follows).

      • Silver Frost

        She might be from the working class and not give a fig for university. I’m guessing that’s the way it is in women’s EU footie leagues.

        • luke

          Maybe you don’t know, but all over the world that football is a mass sport, for poor people too. It’s the beauty of this game.
          There are some weird exceptions though… *cough cough ;)

        • Steglitz49

          You make her sound like Harry Truman, Benjamin Disraeli and John Major all rolled into one.

          I would advise her to have Truman as a model though I have always had a soft spot for Disraeli. The young lass ought to be helped in looking into playing for an NCAA school.

      • Gold Lena

        Direct to Turbine Potsdam?

        • Steglitz49

          Liverpool? — but first 4 years in the NCAA, please.

        • Steglitz49

          BTW, how is the baby-knitting going? OK we trust.

      • luke

        I’ve seen her crossing herself after some goals, pretty sure she is catholic. I think she’ll play in Bundesliga.

        • Steglitz49

          Nikki ought to introduce her to the head coaches of ND or BC at least. I presume there is a clearing house for foreign girls who want to play soccer and study in an NCAA college.

          • Rdalford

            Nikki might be more likely to introduce her to UVA coaches.

          • Steglitz49

            As long as they belong to the faith all is OK, I suppose, though then Georgetown being founded by Jesuits ought to be even better. Anyone for BYU?

          • ruby4

            Ugggggh BYU with the mormons? I think BC could be the perfect place for her actually.

          • Steglitz49

            Verily. How about Brandeis in Beantown while we are at it, or Albert Einstein in NYC? I am with you that BC should fit the bill but ND might be worth a mass.

          • ruby4

            Brandeis maybe although I don’t know really anything about there program. I agree she should probably give ND a look but I vote BC. Catholic but not crazy and a great reputation. Great program but needs some building. Like Abby choosing UF over UNC. Except the catholic part.

          • Steglitz49

            Go for broke, go for Harvard!

          • ruby4

            lol well if she can get it why the hell not.

          • Steglitz49

            How about the Yale Bulldogs? Did W not go to Yale?
            OTH Yale was founded to provide ministers for some protestant sect, I think. And Duke is methodist, I think.

            Now you see that there was method in my madness when I explored alternatives on the letter “B”. Come to think of it, Bulldogs have a B — a b that stands for bone, crunch crunch. Who has beavers and badgers as mascots?

            On a more realistic note, FSU has a fair sprinkling of foreign players.

          • ruby4

            I think FSU should be in the mix. My problem with Yale and Harvard though is that they play in the ivy league conference which for woso is not that competitive in my opinion. I would say Michigan but he who must not be named is there so no thanks. What about V tech?

          • Steglitz49

            I do not know enough about UVA and V Tech to offer an opinion. I favor Stanford (nicknamed the Cardinals, so that fits) and Berkeley because they regularly are listed among the world’s best universities but have excellent soccer programs.

            Come to think of it, isn’t Berkeley’s mascot a bear with a Viking name. That would fit with Sweden and Poland being a united kingdom 300 years ago.

            Stanford and Berkeley are academically on par with Harvard so those are my two preferences. Also the Bay Area is pretty cool for a young lass.

          • Boston Red

            Actually, Stanford is nicknamed the “Cardinal” (as in the color, not the bird). They do use a tree as a more physical mascot.

          • Steglitz49

            Though the St Louis Cardinals have two birds sitting at either end of a baseball bat, and not a Clydesdale or Shirehorse in sight though they belong to the Brewery who sponsor the team …

          • Boston Red

            Actually, Harvard is part of the Ivy League, which doesn’t offer athletic scholarships. But, most students can qualify for financial aid if their parents don’t make a ton of money.

          • J.

            What if they get an academic scholarship can they still play?

          • Boston Red

            Yes. The Ivy League allows academic and other scholarships (and financial aid) as long as they are given out to the same standards as non-athletes. To be honest, the average athlete at Harvard ends up with a better financial package than those who go to other schools on partial scholarships.

          • Steglitz49

            Then they will be broke — unless she makes a brilliant career.

          • Boston Red

            Being a Harvard graduate usually opens a lot of doors…even if it means working at Harvard.

      • martiunka

        She can hardly speak English so I don’t know about that. I think that after gratuating form high school she’s gonna play in Bundesliga. I know that Turbine Potsdam and Bayern Munich were interested in her.

        • Steglitz49

          If there is a will there is a way, and other clichés spring to mind. It does, though, conjure up a strange if not frightening scenario, where all the top north-American women have had the benefit of a university education, and often at top schools, while European ladies go from high school or earlier to a not very well-paid professional career.

  • Steglitz49

    Great reporting! Thank you, while wishing you a good continuation!

  • xman22702

    This is a great article, but I do not understand a part of it. When it says up to 30 players show up to the SeaLions practice, what does it mean? Can anyone show up, are those tryouts, are there 30 players on the team and some don’t come often? Please explain. Thank you!

    • Steglitz49

      Some of them are balancing seals, not sea lions.

      • xman22702

        So you mean that some players only play part-time?

        • Steglitz49

          Though as a child I once had my hair combed by a clown on a one-wheel-bicycle, the only circuses I have performed in have been some of my places of work. Thus, I can’t claim to be an expert on animals throwing balls about.

          Nevertheless, I once was told that the flippered animals that balance balls on their noses and throw them to each other are not, as is popularly thought, sealions but seals, in the vernacular called balancing seals. I have not the foggiest if this is true or whether I have had my leg pulled and been seduced by a tall story.

          The vast majority of women soccer players are at best part-timers and most earn next to nothing. Thus, balancing seals apart, it is safe to assume that many only play part-time.

          • xman22702

            Thank you!

    • Boston Red

      Because it’s an amateur team, it’s certainly possible that there are 30 players on the roster. If they include some high school players, they can have really sporadic schedules during the summer with camps, etc. The players pay to play and WPSL has college substitution rules.

  • Rdalford

    Good article. Nikki should improve an already fairly good FCKC defense. Interesting to read about her international experiences and opportunity with Polish NT.

    • Steglitz49

      Poland winning Euro U-17 shows how ladies football is changing as we type. WC-15 looks like too soon but WC-19 might be their real McCoy.

  • Boston Red

    she doesn’t take up a non-import spot

    Minor point, but I think you mean “an import spot.”

  • STT

    A little off-topic, but:
    “Drawn in Group 4 with European power Sweden, Poland is in a battle with
    Scotland for second place and a chance for a playoff (between the four
    best second-place teams in the seven groups) to land a spot in Canada
    2015″
    You might need to check what’s actually going on over there. Scotland is in the driver’s spot for that group at the moment, Sweden has struggled through their games thus far. The two haven’t met yet, and Scotland has played an extra game so far, but for the three teams Sweden has played so far, Scotland played all three of them and beat them much more confidently.

    • Steglitz49

      Verily and forsooth. I have made the same comment at many and various times by now, but always got the answer that Sweden would qualify easily.

      • STT

        Well, they probably WILL qualify; whether by scrapping through the home-and-away against Scotland or by demolishing the playoffs remains to be seen.

    • TsovLoj

      I was going to say, Schelin and friends haven’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboards lately.