Photo Courtesy of Petri Lunki
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Sam Monahan left the Northern Arizona women's soccer program to begin her professional career in Finland as one of its most prolific players. Three minutes into her first professional game, she scored her first professional goal. Now one year later, after her first professional season in Finland's Division II ranks, Monahan is making the leap to Finland's top league and officially joining the FC Honka club on Monday.
"I'm really excited; I've been waiting for this for a long time," Monahan said. "I'm looking forward to a fresh start. Not only are these girls playing in the league, but they're playing at the international level so I have a lot to learn from them. Hopefully they teach me something and I can produce and fit into their system. I got to see FC Honka last year and I really wanted to be at that level."
While awaiting full clearance to sign her contract, Monahan has appeared in FC Honka's first three games this season, earning starts in two of them. She has played a big role in helping FC Honka to a 3-0 start this season as she has already totaled two goals, including the eventual game-winner in the team's most recent win over Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi.
Monahan joins FC Honka of Finland's Naisten Liiga league after an impactful debut season in 2012 with Ekenäs Idrottsförening (EIF). After making her impression just minutes into her first game, she quickly emerged as EIF's premier player. Monahan's first professional goal off a corner kick in her team's 3-0 shutout of FC Espoo was the just the first of a team-leading nine goals for the season. In fact, not only was she the team's leading striker, she also was the top facilitator with eight assists while also playing nearly 300 more minutes (805 total) than anyone on the team. She also finished tied for second on the team with 17 starts.
Despite it being her first professional season, and a successful one at that, Monahan had to take on a leadership role due to being one of EIF's older players, something she was familiar with after spending her senior season at NAU in 2011 mentoring a roster that included 11 newcomers and 19 total underclassmen. All in all, Monahan and her EIF team ended the 2012 season with two victories and finished 6-9-3.
After the season ended in October, Monahan returned to Flagstaff before heading back to Finland in February. During her time on the pitch at Lumberjack Stadium where it all began, Monahan trained with NAU head coach Andre Luciano, primarily on finishing in front of goal, and worked out with the Lumberjack squad as well.
"Something I really wanted to address was my finishing," Monahan said. "I scored a decent amount of goals last year, but it was something I wanted to work on and now I feel good about it. It's about building your confidence to be lethal in front of goal. Andre has always been there for me. He took the initiative to help me while I was here and I was more than grateful to have him. I told him what I wanted to work on and he was there with me the whole time training."
"The most important aspect was how much she learned in terms of what she needed to work on," Luciano added. "What I'm most proud of is how diligent she was in coming back and working countless hours between the workouts and the individual training sessions. It shows that if you're committed and determined to achieve something, you can."
Now, Monahan is back in Finland and ready to join an FC Honka team that finished fourth in the Naisten Liiga league with a 14-8-5 record a year ago. As great as her first season was on the field, Monahan reflected on life off the field in a foreign country where she initially struggled with the language barrier but grew to understand the culture while building relationships with others. All of this while also having to establish herself as a player from a non-traditional NCAA powerhouse program.
"The first thing is that her perseverance is paying off," Luciano said. "One of the hard things about going overseas when you're not from a traditional NCAA Final Four team is that you have to make your mark and her play last year generated interest from various clubs. She picked Honka as the team she wanted to play for and it gives her the opportunity to continue her professional career. Hopefully this paves a path for future NAU players."
Monahan may have reached the apex of professional fútbol in Finland, but she continues to follow the Lumberjacks in their quest towards returning to the apex of the Big Sky Conference.
"They're obviously a young team and I was able to catch a few games when I was back," Monahan said. "I was impressed with them. They have a lot of talent; the players individually are really good. If they start to develop and realize what their full potential is, they can only go up. I see a lot of good things ahead of them. I got to know them on a personal level training with them and it's important to come back and share my experiences with them."
Follow Monahan's season with FC Honka here.