How does a 22 year old female soccer player who roamed the playing fields in the South Bay of Los Angeles, and then the desert at Arizona State University, wake up her first day as a professional fooballer on a park bench in Stockholm, Sweden?
The answer comes from Mckenzie Grossman, now 24, who learned that there are few options for women who want to continue playing after college.
“I love playing soccer,” she confesses…”and continue to have the fire and passion” as she now gets ready to go back to Europe and play for her fourth professional team, this time in Finland.
Europe? Yes the continent does have women’s pro soccer, but nowhere near the number of teams or opportunities like the men.
“I was a bit naive when I decided I wanted to keep playing,” she says, after a stellar career at ASU where she was named Captain of her Senior squad. Mckenzie was the top defender on a team that usually ranked in the Top 25 in Division I NCAA Women’s soccer.
“I found an agent on the internet without really going through a thorough process to find one. He got me a four-month contract in Sweden at the tail end of their current season.”
Her club was located in Krokom five hours north of Stockholm near The Arctic Circle. With a population of 3,000 Krokom is the home of KD Krokom, then in Division I soccer. That’s the lowest rung of soccer in the county.
Mckenzie’s contract was only $500 USD per month plus round trip airfare. She was given an apartment with one other teammate, a bike and food, if she could make her way over to the team restaurant, a few blocks from the team’s facility.
So there she was landing in Stockholm after an 11-hour flight and looking at a 12 hour layover. At 21, this was her first trip to Europe. She thought why not check out the night life of Stockholm so she hopped on a train into the city.
What she did not know is that after her “self guided tour of Stockholm” that the trains stop running at midnight. She decided to “wing it” and found what she thought was a safe park and plopped herself on a bench.
“It was July so the sun never really sets that time of the year. It gets dim but never dark.” With the temperatures in the high 40s she had enough warm clothing to be comfortable through the night.
Kenz, as her friends and teammates call her, remembers sleeping a little. After being awakened early in the morning she took the first train back to the airport. With no problem making her flight, she was greeted by her manager at the airport in Krokom, a little wiser on the train schedules of Sweden.
Her first pro season was a great learning experience but she was looking for something more. “It was the minor leagues. I wanted to be in the big leagues, get paid, have a Visa and be legitimate.”
She returned to Tempe and still had friends at an apartment with a spot for her.
“I worked in a spin studio, in a bar at night and in catering. I was working three jobs paying rent and trying to get by so I could play again.”
In between work she made time to train and stay in great shape for what she hoped would be another contract in Europe.
Three months later and no word from her agent she got concerned.
It was January when the windows for transfers were about to close for the season. Conversations with her agent went nowhere, meaning at
best, she’d probably miss the beginning of the season again. Mckenzie started to feel “maybe this just is not in the cards for me.”
In late June months later, she started plan B for her life. She left Tempe, moved back to Manhattan Beach and in with her parents. The dream was fading fast. She cut ties with her agent and started to look for medical sales jobs.
Within a week of moving home she got a call from Damon Wilson, an agent and Founder/CEO at Wilson Management Alliance, who had received some tape from her former assistant coach, Blair Quinn at Arizona State. Coach Quinn had good things to say about Grossman.
“I reviewed your tape from ASU and want to take you on as a client,” Damon explained. “You deserve better representation,” he told Mckenzie. “ I think you are a stud and can go places.”
Damon’s research gave him a snapshot of a player with “great heart.” He saw her as “very coachable,” a big positive for someone on a team sport. “She possesses a thirst for getting better which is a big asset in her game.” She, as a defender, has the “key ingredients” for success. Per Damon, “She’s tough…works hard and has a will to win with no fear of laying it all on the line. She is a fantastic player.”
Mckenzie was surprised and happy, but told Damon he needed to get something done in a week.
“I was in the process of finding a full-time job in the corporate world and close to an offer. I was not going to wait around for a contract very long.”
She got her answer the next day.
The news was a fresh contract for Mckenzie for the back part of the season like her first one, but with a Division II Club, BK-30. She had moved up to the very competitive Elitettan League, the second highest in Sweden.
Now with a half-year contract boosted to $700 a month with airfare, an apartment, meals three days a week with the team, and of course a bike, she was ready to return to Sweden. This time to Västerås, (pop 120,000) an hour outside of Stockholm.
Damon wanted to help her without her signing a contract to officially be her agent and promised her he’d get an early start on the next deal to make sure
it was for a full year. He said he would do all of this at “no charge” which is highly unusual for an agent to do.
Damon made good on his promise when he called Mckenzie during the end of the season in October with a new contract for a full year starting in February.
“It’s very usual to know your next contract is finalized in October,” she emphasized. “I was still playing in Sweden and had the wonderful comfort of knowing I was set for the next season.”
Damon had delivered and Mckenzie was now headed to Iceland.
Her club in Iceland was IBV located on a Vestmannaeyjar Island, (pop 4,500) three-and-a-half hours by ferry southeast of the mainland.
The best news for Mckenzie was what she had reached her goal of now playing in Division 1 (Pepsi-Max) Soccer in Europe. She was now making $1,500 a month with airfare, housing, and a bike, which she carefully navigated over many days of snow, high winds and black ice.
The location of the club forced them to have to take the long ferry ride to every game on the mainland, weather permitting. Sometimes, due to fog and high winds, the ferry and the game were cancelled.
During home games that same fog made it difficult to see the entire field while getting pelted by large raindrops blowing in 45-mile-an-hour winds.
“You play a full 90 minute game in those conditions and hold on for dear life if you’re against the wind,” she recalls. “It was quite an experience playing in such extreme weather.”