Independence / Raves

Raves: Holmfridur Magnusdottir

Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks, PSP contributors will be posting what we’re calling “raves” about some of our favorite Philadelphia players. They need not be the team’s best players, but they’re guys—or in this case, a gal—we like. You hear plenty of rants when the Union or Independence are losing. Here are the raves, continuing with Ed’s for Holmfridur Magnusdottir.

Although my rave is about Holmfridur Magnusdottir, the left back for the Independence, it is also a bit of a rave for the Independence and women’s soccer. Allow me to explain.

I started writing about the Independence at the PSP because nobody else was. We’re supposed to be about soccer in Philly and I was game. With a roster largely made up of internationals, including four recent call-ups for the US team, as well as a bounty of young players who are sure to make an impact in WPS if not international play, the Independence have plenty of players to rave about.

Not that I knew who any of them were before the start of the season.

Like most men who watch soccer (and probably most women, too), my attention had been focused entirely on the men’s game. Before the Union came to town, that meant English soccer, the Champions League and the World Cup. Sure, I remember the 1999 Women’s World Cup victory for the US, and I watched the 2007 World Cup and the US gold medal wins in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. But did I follow women’s soccer? Not at all. The Philadelphia Charge came and went and the only thing I noticed was Heather Mitts hooking up with A.J. Feeley.

Getting to know the women’s game

After a season of writing game recaps about the Independence, not to mention the US women’s national team, all of that has changed. Yes, top-flight women’s soccer is not played at the level that top-flight men’s soccer is played. Although it is struggling to survive as it enters its third year, WPS is the top women’s league in the world with many of the world’s best women players producing some very attractive soccer.

Still, league attendance is abysmal. I haven’t been to a game. I have a TV.

We live in a profit-driven society, one in which the viability of a product has little to do with its quality, and whether WPS ought to survive is a question very different from whether it can survive. That said, if you are a soccer fan, truly a deep fan of the game who is interested in the game itself rather than all of its accouterments—ease of access to information, media focus, celebrity, reflected glory and general coolness—you’ve been missing out if you haven’t been paying attention to the women’s game.

When it comes to the Independence, it’s a raving bounty

The regular season ended with a tight race to the finish, largely thanks to a slumping Independence. How the Independence managed to reverse their fortunes in the playoffs is exactly the kind of thing that any true sports–not to mention soccer fan—should enjoy. For example, watching the Super Semifinal between the Independence and the Boston Breakers with and some friends—among them fellow PSP contributor Mike Servedio, otherwise known as Mr. Bilious T. Nasty—was one of the best times I’ve had watching a game in a long time. After a season of trying to cobble together information for match reports and news roundups from a league, a team, and a local sports media that are all clearly lacking the resources to give the on-field WPS product its due, I not only care about what is going on with the Independence, I’ve started to follow what the internationals on the team are doing, even the ones who don’t play for the US.

What’s not to like? After all, the Independence play attractive, attacking soccer and they have the stats to prove it. There’s plenty to rave about.

Want to know how to score goals, Grasshopper? Think "Rodriguez." (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Independence)

Amy Rodriguez finished the season third in the league in goals scored with 13 goals, four of which were game winners including the dramatic last minute of extra time goal over the Washington Freedom in the first playoff game. In a torrent of scoring over six consecutive league games in June and July, Rodriguez scored nine goals. During that run she also scored a goal for the US national team.

If you take a closer look at the league standings for goals, three Independence players are clumped in the middle of the top 20. Joanna Lohman and Leanne Sanderson are tied with three other players for the eleventh highest tally with five goals on the season. Just under them is the wily Tina DiMartino has four goals. National team stalwart Lori Lindsey finished second in the league with eight assists. Rodriguez was fourth with six assists. If goal scoring and assists had been as well and deeply distributed for the Union, we’d all be making arrangements to buy playoff tickets.

And I haven’t even mentioned Caroline Seger in the midfield, or the quick as lightning Danesha Adams, or that steadfast in goal Val Henderson.

But Holmfridur Magnusdottir is the one for me

Holmfridur is dangerous on the attack (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Independence)

Each of these players are deserving of a rave. But the player that I found myself most excited to watch was Iceland international Holmfridur Magnusdottir. (In addition to learning about women’s soccer, I’ve learned that in Iceland surnames are either patronymic or matronymic, meaning that names end with “son” to indicate “son of” or “dottir” to indicate “daughter of.” The custom is then to refer to a person by their given name rather than their surname. I’ve read teammates refer to Holmfridur in interviews as “Frida” or “Fridur.” Since I’ve never had the honor of meeting her I’ll stick with Holmfridur. Besides, I think it’s a cool name.)

Holmfridur was signed as a forward but was soon converted to left back. And man, is she good at it. Combining defensive grit with a desire to charge up field, she’s the most dangerous, hard-nosed left back in the city and she’s still learning her craft.

For Iceland she’s listed as a midfielder. In the Women’s World Cup qualifiers she’s Iceland’s second highest goal scorer with seven goals, including a hat trick against Estonia and a brace each against Serbia and Croatia.

She had three goals for the Independence, not bad for a someone playing out of their natural position. Against Boston Breakers in the beginning of August, she scored two goals in the space of two minutes. With the Independence down a goal, she ripped a free kick from 25 yards out that deflected off the wall and into goal. Racing up the flank only moments later, she took a pass from the midfield, beat her defender and unleashed a rocket that banged off the post that then ricocheted off the keeper and into net.

Simply stunning.

She is a handful

It’s true, maybe she can be a bit too adventurous at times. After a tight 1–0 victory over Atlanta, Independence coach Paul Riley said, “Fridur is great going forward, she is a handful, and sometimes gets a bit carried away, and when you hold a one-nil lead and she is careening down the field you lose more hair than I have already.” But it’s that kind of aggressive, bombing up the wing play that creates opportunities by overloading the opposition’s defense, making opposing defenders twitchy and her such a thrill to watch.

Holmfridur is tough on defense (Photo by Paul Rudderow)

Such hair pulling becomes easier to take when you see that Holmfridur is also a tenacious defender who knows how to be physical. She’s the kind of defender who is constantly making contact on opposition players, reminding them that getting past her is going to come at a cost. As the WPS best XI newcomers list on SI.com says, she may have something of a reputation for “dirty play.” But with only three yellow cards and one red (for a reckless challenge that the Independence fruitlessly appealed) over 22 games, I think of her not as a dirty player but as a tough, hard as nails defender who generally knows how to foul smart. In other words, she’s the kind of player for which Philly sports fans go gaga.

She carried an injury into the postseason, one that plainly cost her a step and affected her mobility. In the playoffs there were times when attackers were able to turn inside on her far too easily. But the fact that she was on the field was just another demonstration of her toughness and determination. It was also an indication of how important she is to the team. Including the postseason, in games that she started (21) or appeared in (1), the Independence had a 10–9–3 record. In games that she did not appear in, the team’s record was 1–3–1.

Whether she’s bumping and knocking the opposition’s offense, charging up the wings, or delivering blistering free kicks, Holmfridur is the kind of defender that championships are built on. Her gritty, tough and tenacious play make her exactly the kind of player Philadelphia sports fans embrace. The Union would kill to have a left back with her current strengths and obvious potential.

I went into this WPS season caring only slightly more than what I knew about women’s soccer and the Independence, which was just about nothing. That’s different now for a number of reasons. My favorite reason is Holmfridur Magnusottir.

18 Comments

  1. Debbie Murphy says:

    Yes! Finally someone who appreciates the Independence!!! How do we get everyone else on board?
    Gotta change the marketing strategy…

  2. Debbie Murphy says:

    Also, awesome bit about Frida….she can be just the player you want on your team…esp. if you’re a Philly fan.

  3. Independence rock. Nice article. Good to see something like this pop-up. Cheers

    PS. NY Cosmos are back 😀

  4. sweet! she’s my favorite independence player by far. i didn’t know anything about her until witnessing her play at the home opener. needless to say i was quite impressed. it was the consensus of the 5 people i was with that she was the most impressive player on the field that day. thanks for writing on the independence.

  5. I went into the spring with a limited number of chances to get to games, so I figured I’d go to several Union games and maybe an Independence game or two. In the end, I wound up going to four Independence games and two Union games. The level of play in WPS is just that good, and the Independence’s approach to the game is just that fun to watch.

    You nailed it with your assessment of Holmfridur. There’s something about her style that reminds me a bit of Dave Schultz, but in the best possible ways – the perfect type of player for any Philadelphia team.

  6. Thank you! As an avid WPS fan, it’s good to see the league get some respect. WPS is *the* place to play for the best women in the world — where else can you go and see the world’s best athletes compete at the highest level for $25?

    (I’m actually a Breaker’s fan, but still love A-Rod, even though she’s playing for Philly 😉

  7. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Thanks for all of your comments. I really enjoyed learning about the Independence and women’s soccer over the course of the first WPS season in Philly and I’m really looking forward to next year.

    You might be interested to listen to our latest podcast which features an interview with Independence coach Paul Riley. Its a very informative and entertaining interview and he has a lot of great things to say about Holmfridur.

    • And it’s actually kinda funny what Riley says about Holmfridur, the sort of hold-your-breath-as-she-bombs-down-the-flank approach to her style of play. We asked him specifically about her. Really interesting and entertaining stuff.

  8. The league attendance IS NOT abysmal. Its the highest of any women’s league in the world and higher than many men’s teams around the world.
    What is abysmal is people’s expectations. This is not the NBA or even the WNBA. 4.5K is good and a benchmark. Grow it from here.

  9. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Shek, I am grateful for your comment. But, the 4.5K you mention is the attendance average for Boston Breakers (at 4,490, the best attended team in the league for 2010), it is not the league average. The league average is 3,601.

    After 20 games, the Independence was averaging 2,848, the worst attendance in the league. (I think they finished with an average of 2,965, but the excellent website All White Kit, from where I had earlier gotten that figure, seems to have gone down.)

    Going in to the playoffs, attendance had declined 23% for the league “with every team that returned from 2009 showing average attendance decreases ranging from 4% [Boston] to 32% [Washington Freedom].” This is an alarming trend, one which has nothing to do with expectations, be they “abysmal” or not.

    I believe I read somewhere that the league says an average attendance of 5,000 per team is the break even point. If that is the case, 4.5k is not good enough to sustain the league. At the very least that figure is a diminishing benchmark compared to the inaugural season league average of 4,684. Should WPS be able to develop partnerships with either MLS or the USSF, it is very unlikely the league would receive the kind of subsidies the WNBA receives from the NBA in order to stay in business.

    Hopefully, the recent restructuring of how the league is managed (giving the clubs more autonomy in how they market themselves locally), combined with the interest that is sure to be generated by the upcoming Women’s World Cup will see an bump from the league’s sophomore slump and an increase in attendance across the league. That is my sincere hope. But saying that WPS attendance is the “highest of any women’s league in the world and higher than many men’s teams around the world” is meaningless if the league cannot make enough money to survive in the world’s richest (and most overcrowded) sports market.

    • Ed,
      My point being that WPS could average 7,000 per game and on the American sports scene it will be peanuts.
      We, the women’s football people, must stop comparing ourselves to NBA, NHL, NFL and even MLS and work our way up from where we are today. Set a long term strategy, grow the sport organically, incrementally. It takes time, women’s football is not a get rich quick scheme, its a process of growing a sport with a limited fan appeal and we must tailor our expectations to fit our product and fan interest in it. It will be successful but we cant define success at the NBA attendance and sponsorships numbers. ITS not realistic.
      Most owners and GM’s because they are new to the sport have visions of grandeur; sponsors lining up, sold out stadiums, media coverage. Not realistic.
      Its time to roll up the sleeves work hard and expect long term struggle and maybe success in 10 years or longer.

      • Ed Farnsworth says:

        Hello Shek, and thank you for your comments – I enjoy the opportunity to exchange views with a fellow fan.

        I wholeheartedly agree that a long-term strategy is the way to go. And I only hope that the club owners understand that and have deep enough pockets to keep their club and the league going until attendance reaches a level that can sustain the league. In that sense, while 7,000 per game might be peanuts compared to other professional sports, it is also a number that is well beyond the break-even point and would make the league (minimally) profitable. I suspect the league would be ecstatic to average 7,000 per game – I don’t think the USWNT regularly gets those kind of numbers.

        In view of the need for a long-term vision, I also agree that measuring the success of soccer in America, whether we’re talking about the men or women’s game, by comparing it to other already established sports has little value (although plenty of people, soccer fans or otherwise, will continue to do so). Rather, I think its success is better judged in terms of how well it succeeds with those who already support the sport. In other words, how does it do with the already converted rather than those who at present don’t know, follow or care about the game How does it do compared with its existing potential? If that fan base is willing to support the sport to a level that insures its survivability as a professional sport, then that is success. After achieving that, we can work on wider appeal.
        If only more soccer fans felt like “I can’t wait for the next WPS season,” just as you and I do, we’d be doing alright.

      • Ed,
        We agree and keep writing because I enjoy visiting your site. Excellent!

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  11. great story on the independence and they had heather mitts too .. season ticket holder for the union, i went to 2 indy games and the atmosphere was great ..the game was a lot more physical and little diving as if to dive was to show a sign of weakness . . and the family friendliness at the end of the game with players from both teams hanging around for over an hour signing things and talking to the fans is unmatched by any professional league that i’ve ever experienced .. i have always watched the uswnt and went to ppl the night of halladays no hitter.. one thing the indy may want to do is shoot the game from the other side of the field so the empty visitors section isnt the only one shown on tv . plus frida is awesome , speed and toughness in one… just read on your site where chicago is folding,sadly i hope the wps can survive because the product especially at west chester is wonderful.

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  13. I’m a little late but great article. I’m looking forward to the Independence vs Flash here in Rochester. Would love to hear more about Tasha Kai and why she isn’t playing with the US National Team any more (or is she)?

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