COLUMBIA — Janelle Cordia never dreamed she would become a professional soccer player in Europe.
After playing as a midfielder for the Missouri soccer team, Cordia joined a semiprofessional league in New York.
Her career turned global after her agent sent video footage of Missouri games to European teams. The Finland league, Åland United, liked what it saw.
She played professionally for Åland United, the highest soccer division in Finland, for three years. This fall, she moved to Denmark to play for Fortuna Hjørring as a defensive midfield player.
"I had a friend from MU who played in Germany and said it was a great opportunity,” Cordia said in an interview last month. "Playing abroad was a great way to see the world while still playing soccer."
Life as an international athlete
Called women's association football outside of the United States, it is the most popular team sport played by women around the globe.
European football has a different style than American soccer, although the rules are the same. In the European game, the ball is typically advanced down the sides, then crossed into the air so it can be headed into a goal. American teams tend to emphasize positioning and control.
The Union of European Football Associations is the governing body for soccer abroad. The Danish team was one of the earliest, founded in 1889, and the women's team made the semifinals of the European championship last year.
The regular season for the Danish team's season begins in August. In preseason, Cordia plays against teams across Europe.
"In February, I will play the team I just left," she said. "That will be really interesting, but nice because I can’t wait to see the girls again."
She said it can be hard to switch, but she likes Fortuna's playing style and experience level. New teams have influenced her, and her focus now is on patience and possession.
She said she has made friends with players from Scotland to Nigeria during her international career. Between games, she said, she enjoys traveling with teammates and has taken weekend trips to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.
"I was talking to high school girls yesterday and was telling them if you like traveling the world and love playing the game, then you should pursue soccer," Cordia said in an interview last month.
An impact at Missouri
Cordia is one of the first from the Missouri soccer team to go abroad, although the program has produced several professional athletes, coach Bryan Blitz said.
He said Cordia is genetically gifted and shows outstanding dedication to the sport.
"Janelle outworked people,” Blitz said. “She honed her skill and talent. She was a fantastic athlete who became an excellent soccer player."
At Missouri, Cordia was a midfielder. She said she doesn’t believe in good-luck tokens but shares the collegiate jersey No. 13 with her favorite childhood Missouri player.
Blitz said Cordia was an inspirational captain whom younger teammates looked up to. She was recruited to Missouri for not only her skill but her character.
"Once you get to the pro level, everyone’s got talent," Blitz said. "But it’s your work ethic" that sets athletes apart.
Part of that work ethic translated to academics. Cordia often tutored her teammates in upper-level math courses and continues to tutor her European teammates.
She said it was difficult at times to balance her schedule with workouts and classes as a triple major in mathematics, education and psychology.
It all began in Columbia
Cordia’s soccer career began in the backyard as she played with her older sister, Jenni Gentzell, who later played soccer for Benedictine College. Her brother, John, played high school baseball at Hickman High School, which all three siblings attended.
"Her older sister played soccer, so she watched her from the time she was born," her mother, Julie Cordia, said.
She said she remembers her daughter dribbling a soccer ball around the kitchen table and practicing in the yard. Both parents recalled when Janelle knocked a few pictures off a wall when she kicked a ball too hard against the outside of her house. But nothing was broken.
Signed soccer balls, team jerseys and awards are now on display in the family's house.
As a 5-year-old, Janelle Cordia joined her first co-ed team and at 9 played on a competitive girls team. She began playing for the Carrera Club in Columbia at age 12.
She played for Hickman in the spring and continued club soccer in the fall. Her soccer career then took her to the Missouri field.
In 2009, she took a year off of soccer to finish college andteach. Cordia returned to Hickman as a student teacher and coach in spring 2009.
She said she plans to teach math and coach after her athletic career.
"The more I have grown in Europe, the more I realize what the possibilities are and where it can take me," she said about soccer. “I want to bring the experiences back and show younger girls they can do this. This is a reality.”
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.