October 24, 2020
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Story tips, concerns, questions?

photo courtesy of Erick Miseroy/Toros Athletics

By Jessica Olvera
Assistant Sports Editor

Most people travel to a foreign country for fun, or to experience a different culture. Sofia Litendahl, a junior on the CSUDH soccer team, is doing both. But she’s also here on business, that business being her.The 22-year-old Finland native chose to come to CSUDH in order to continue to play the sport she loves, but also to focus on academics so she can have a life after soccer.

“Here in the U.S., we can combine sports with school [but] in Europe we don’t have that,” Litendahl said. “[At CSUDH] I get the opportunity to play the sport that I love and [get a] higher education.” 

Litendahl was born in Helsinki, Finland and attended Mäkelänrinteen Lukio, a non-graded senior high school, one of 13 sports-oriented schools in Finland. Unlike many other European countries, where soccer is the most played and watched sport, in Finland, it is second to ice hockey

But it was Litendahls’s first love and as her high school graduation approached, she faced a big decision. She had to choose between staying home in Finland and  attend an academic university where she couldn’t play soccer, or leave her family and friends and travel alone to a foreign country, where she could both study and compete.

She chose CSUDH. 

When first coming to the United States, its sheer vastness in terms of population and cultural diversity came as a shock, Litendahl said. Who could blame her, considering the entire population of Finland is about half that of LA County. 

 But some of the differences were subtler, such as how Americans and European soccer players approach the game of soccer. Litendahl said European players tend to be more technical, meaning that they focus on a more cautious approach, with precise passing to teammates, and sticking to an organized formation throughout a match. In contrast, she found American players are more free-form, focusing on physical fitness in order to maximize speed.

“We [European players] will hold the ball more and wait for the opportunity to score in games, rather than here where I feel like we go 100 miles per hour the whole game,” Litendahl said. Another difference she mentioned is that in America, players tend to passionately display their emotions, while European players are less emotional and more disciplined.

Along with bringing a different technique and demeanor to the women’s soccer team, Litendahl has doubled the Finnish contingent on the Toros this season. Her high school teammate Sara Kattainen, a member of Finland’s national team, joined the team this season after transferring from Ohio State University, largely because after flying to see Litendahl on her birthday, she was instantly taken by the California vibe, particularly Los Angeles.

The pair attended the same high school and often speak in Finnish on the field. Litendahl said that living reminder of home right next to her helps keep her grounded.

“It’s like a dream come true to get to play with her again,” Litendahl said. 

Together they share a similar experience in being far away from home that has allowed them to lean on each other for support and to take pride in representing their Finland heritage. 

But she said she also found a second home in the U.S., and at CSUDH, something she didn’t expect. She said her overall experience has been overwhelming with the amount of support that she has received, allowing her to push through the challenges that she is faced with in both soccer and academic success. 

So far, Litendahl has recorded five goals during her three years here at CSUDH and has logged over 2,760 minutes as a consistent starter for the program. 

Along with having the task of getting accustomed to a new country, and acclimating her style of soccer into the American game, Litendahl has the added difficulty of juggling the life of being a student-athlete. This busy schedule often seems daunting to outsiders but Litendahl takes the challenging opportunity in stride so that she can better herself and make the most out of her “business trip” here. 

Academically, Litendahl has declared herself a communication major with an emphasis in advertising and public relations and has her sights on potentially working for an advertising agency in the future. 

“I’ve definitely learned that nothing will be accomplished if I just back and not do anything,” Litendahl said. “If I had done that, I wouldn’t be here now.” 

Litendahl mentioned that being so far from her family is difficult, but that celebrating with them back home in Finland once she graduates will make it all worth it.Though she came to America to take care of her business, she has gained valuable insight about one aspect of life: that living one day at a time is more important than worrying about what challenges the future will bring. 

“I think about my future but you never truly know where you’ll end up,” Litendahl said. “Both countries feel like home to me, so it’s all a matter of time to decide where I want to stay.” 

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