Friday, June 22, 2012

Lisa Robertson hoping Spokane Shine helps further career with Scottish National Team

Most 20-year-olds in the United States are in their first two years of college soccer, trying to earn playing time among their older peers. The Spokane Shine, however, lean on one that brings a wealth of experience and, more importantly, determined leadership to the team in the form of longtime Scottish U19 international Lisa Robertson, who will take her team into a showdown for first place in the WPSL Northwest Division Saturday against the Portland Rain at 3:00 pm at Joe Albi Stadium. 

“Keep it going ladies, work through it. Keep working.” That’s not coach Jason Quintero on the sideline at training, but rather Robertson chirping for her teammates to keep the energy up whether it’s during a scrimmage, or the warm-ups that she manages herself.

“I like to train the way I play, and by doing that it gets everyone else going,” Robertson says of being a leader within the team. “It shows when we go into the games because we have trained all week the way we play at the weekend so there’s not a massive change in play. It raises the standard of training and keeps everyone going as we are all training for a jersey.”

While she may be younger than about half the squad, her experience from abroad makes her far wiser than what her birth certificate may imply. Robertson’s career started at a young age, joining Hibernian (Edinburgh) – one of the top sides in the Scottish Premier League – at the age of 14, eventually becoming the captain of the club’s U17s.

She also worked her way into the nation’s Under-19 squad earlier than most.

“That was amazing. I moved up to Under-19s when I was 16; I skipped Under-17s.”

And an early journey with the U19 team proved to be one of the top moments in her life as she embarked on a campaign that made history for Scotland in the 2009-10 UEFA Under-19 Women’s Championship.

“[We] made it through the first phase, second phase and then got to the European Championship finals. We were the only Scotland Under-19 team to actually get there.” She said. “And our group was England, Italy and Germany, which are probably three best teams in Europe. So to play against them – we only came away with one point – but it was still the best experience of my life; best football I ever played and most professional as well.”

Scotland bested Bulgaria and Northern Ireland in the First Qualifying Round, finishing second to Italy. They advanced again as group runners-up in next qualifying round with wins over Denmark and Finland along with a draw against the Netherlands to reach the Group Stage of the Championship. It was a difficult path from there, falling 3-1 to England and 5-1 to Germany before getting a 3-3 result against Italy, who they had lost to, 2-0, in the opening qualifying round.

The following year she saw action again in the event, playing all three games of the Second Qualifying Round only to see Scotland go out with a 2-1 loss to Spain and a pair of draws against Austria, 3-3, and Poland, 2-2.

Robertson has had great success with the youth, but has not had the same fortune in breaking through to the senior national team.

“I have been involved in camps with the national squad - the first team and stuff, but I ‘ve just never made the final cut, so obviously that’s what I would like to do. That’s my goal for the future,” she said. 

Spokane Shine Photo Gallery [+]
Hopefully, that is where playing in the United States comes into picture. Robertson said that her experiences here with the Shine is helping her game and giving her the opportunity to take what she learns here back home with her where she will work hard and earn her way into the national team.

And coming to Spokane was not an easy decision. Robertson left a Hibernian side that had won a Scottish Premier League Cup in 2011 and reached the Scottish Cup Final the past two years, winning the title in 2010. The team finished third in the league in 2011 and had already started a new league season with some early success. Robertson had scored three goals in five games as the team started off with four wins and a loss, outscoring the opposition 36-7.

“It was very tough because we were still in the title race to win the league, and we’re still in the Scottish Cup, so it was pretty tough,” she said of making the decision. “It’s just one of those things that if you’re gonna do it, then do it now while I’m young, and then I can always go back to Hibs. And I will go back there and they will still be there. And I have already won the Scottish Cup and League Cup - stuff with Hibs; so this is just another chance to open another door and achieve more things.

“When I was younger, I always wanted to come to the States, so this is like the first step to come to the States,” she said of the opportunity.

The selection process of where to go was the only thing left.

“Just really lucky, random stuff. I think she emailed a couple clubs over here,” Quintero said of landing the youth international. “I think she was kinda just looking for a fresh adventure in the States. Luck of the draw.

“She sent some emails and sent a game tape over, and I was really excited to have a chance to talk to her over the phone and she chose us. And we are really thankful she did because she has been the foundation of our team as far as leadership on the field and everything off it. We are really excited to have her and hope to have her back for many years to come.”

Though it was her decision, Robertson agreed that perhaps some good fortune was involved in her choosing Spokane.

“Maybe lucky for me as well to get the opportunity,” she said. “I just wanted to go to a team I felt could go to the playoffs, and then hopefully progress from there. Looking at Spokane last year and looking at the players they were bringing in this year, [making the playoffs] looked possible so I came here. I’m loving it; it’s a beautiful city.”

Things started off a little slow with the team only picking up one point on a two-game trip to Oregon to open the campaign. Then Robertson was bitten by a bit of hamstring strain.

“Seems to be better now, I trained all this week and played at the weekend. It was just last week it gave me a little bother and the first home game, but seems to be recovered well.”

She played through it though, continually receiving praise from Quintero for her strength and leadership.

Despite her petite frame, Robertson commands the midfield for Spokane vocally, earning respect with her skill on the ball and her toughness as she constantly battles through the physical play that often occurs on the smaller American pitches. She even made a nice gridiron football style tackle in training against a teammate earlier this week many Americans would applaud.

It is an aspect of the game that, despite her experience, is fairly new to her.

“I would say here, people are more athletic – faster and stronger; whereas, back home the game is more about tactics and technical rather than running, being strong and winning 50-50s,” she said. “I don’t think it’s added to my game, but it’s helped my game. I have to move the ball quicker. I can’t take as many touches, so I think it will improve my game the more that I play here.

“Off the field there is not much of a difference [between] this team and Hibs - great people and everyone’s together.”

There is one major difference though between the teams, and that is the player pool.

“Back home it’s pretty professional because it’s the Premier League – it’s the top league in Scotland.”

A majority of the Scottish national team plays for Hibernian along with Glasgow City and Celtic. They are the dominant three teams in the league. She noted that three other Scottish internationals are playing for Arsenal Ladies and a fourth at Liverpool Ladies in the English Premier League. And Lisa Evans just signed a full-time three-year deal with German side Turbine Potsdam, according to Robertson.

Lisa Robertson Gallery on INW Facebook page [+]
At 20 years of age, Robertson has a lot of potential opportunities in front of her, making the next few months a difficult proposition off the field as she considers what direction she will take her career in after the conclusion of the Shine season. Coming back to play collegiately in the United States is among those options.

“That was a thought, but I am just gonna play here in the summer and then I’m due to go back home the first of August; and then I’ll take it from there,” she said. “Because, the further I’m away from Scotland, then I am not sure if that will help my Scotland career. I still feel I can achieve more things with Hibs, but if there is an offer here, then I’ve got to really think about it and then I would come back.”

Though Quintero and the many Shine fans are hoping the decision is for her to return, at the very least she will be able to return to Scotland with an enhanced first-hand account of American soccer for her compatriots, who may think of the US game as a mystery.

“There’s mixed views on it. People think ‘oh, it’s just athletes’ and then [others think] that the best players in the world come here, because the best players in the world probably are here.

“A lot of people from England came here when the pro league was here,” she added. “And USA are probably one of the best women’s national teams, so it’s not just about athleticism, but it’s got good football, structure as well.”

And as for the professional American leagues, gossip has ruled over the little-discussed topic. “If I am honest, [people back in Scotland] expected it [to fold] because they paid certain people too much money and when people heard that, they knew it was not gonna last long. I don’t think there were too [much discussion] because players could play elsewhere.”

Whether Robertson returns for the Shine, comes back to the US for another new pro league, stays with the Hibs or finds a home elsewhere in Europe, there is one thing you know for sure that she will be doing.

She will ‘keep it going, and work through it.’