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.