Veronica Smeltzer Diary: My Icelandic Adventure, Part Three

Prior to signing my first contract for UMFG Grindavík, I had no idea what to expect. Gripped by the aspect of a team wanting me, and feeling needed, I felt as though I had to say yes to my first offer. Having heard horror stories of players running out of offers after turning down too many, I did not want to risk it. Besides, Iceland was always a country I had wanted to visit and explore, so this seemed like a matter of fate. So, two days after graduating college I walked onto a plane, having no clue what the future would hold at the end of this season.

Fast forward to now, my team currently sits in ninth place; the dreaded relegation zone. Out of ten teams in the first division (which is really the second tier) in Iceland, the top two teams move up to Pepsi Max, the premiere league, and the bottom teams move to the second division (third tier). Having never been in this position before, I must admit, it’s quite stressful. Throughout my club days in California and even in college, finishing in last, or second to last, did not come with any penalties. Was it unfortunate? Yes, but never what seemed as a make-it or break-event.

As of last Friday, we lost our second to last game against the fourth-place team. The teams above us (that were only a point ahead of us) did the unexpected and pulled off a win to further the gap between eighth and ninth place. Even if we win our last game, against the number one team, Grindavík will be relegated at the end of the 2019 season.

Ironically, Grindavík was in the top tier last year, the Pepsi League, but were relegated after finishing in the bottom two places in the league. A large portion of the team left to join different teams, wanting to stay in the Pepsi league, and as a result of the start of the 2019 season, the squad was not reminiscent of the year before. It was made evident that the purpose of this season was not to try and jump back into the first division, but rather to grow and improve to better the chance of moving and staying up next season.

Prior to reaching where we currently sit, the season started off quite differently. In the first game of the season, I had not arrived (I still had to graduate college and receive my diploma prior to flying out) and Grindavík lost their first match. Building from there though, we went on to draw with a few teams, collect three wins, and even do what seemed to be the impossible; beat the number two team in the league (who is expected to move up to Pepsi) in an epic 2-1 finish.

Unfortunately, from there, our gentle, but steady decline began, and continued throughout the season. Two players went back to the United States to compete at the Division I level, and another key player was lost to sustaining an ACL injury. From there, more injuries occurred, though less tragic, but key players were missing in important matches that were necessary to collect points. Many of our games simply seemed just out of reach. Two near draws with top teams were in our grasp, but were lost in extra time (once off a set piece and another off a penalty in the box at the 95th minute).

Our ambition stayed high, striving for a win the next time around, but alas, luck was not on our side. We continued to draw or lose. The most upsetting game occurred a mere two weeks ago; losing to the last place team on a 1-0 defeat based off a questionable hand ball penalty in the box.

With relegation confirmed, I have no idea what happens next, or where I’ll be next year. All that is certain is that we have one game left on Friday against Þróttur, and we will finish the way we started the season; fighting the entire ninety minutes.