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September 9, 2019

Soccer stars from different cultures find common ground

They have all the credentials to help FGCU return to the top.

Photo shows FGCU soccer players
Marjorie Boilesen, left, and Evdokia Popadinova celebrate during a recent match. “We’re really happy to be here, and I think that impacts the game,” Boilesen says. Photo by Brad Young/FGCU

It’s a steamy morning at the FGCU Soccer Complex, but foreign-born stars – and close friends – Marjorie Boilesen and Evdokia Popadinova are laughing easily anyway after practice.

In accents almost as thick as their resumes, the Brazilian and the Bulgarian, respectively, discuss the beach trips they rarely get to make given their busy schedules, their mixed results attempting to decipher each other’s native languages and just their strong on-field connection.

“I think our personality, it’s really alike,” Boilesen said. “We’re always having fun. We’re always laughing, even on the field when we’re doing an exercise. We’re really happy to be here, and I think that impacts the game as well.”

Popadinova said, “We’re like best friends. When I came here last year she was pretty much the first person I met, and we had this instant connection on and off the field. It’s been great.”

One topic ends the levity though. For a program accustomed to almost always reaching the NCAA tournament, last year’s 1-0 loss to top-seeded Lipscomb in the semifinals of the ASUN tournament was hard to stomach. That’s certainly true for these decorated seniors.

“We’re very competitive players. We always want to win,” said Boilesen, from Sao Paulo, where runaway fires in the Amazon are another rare topic able to erase her bright smile.

“The way it ended last season, we didn’t even get close to where we wanted to be. It was very upsetting. But it is something that motivates us to do way better this year.”

Photo shows FGCU soccer player
Evdokia Popadinova was named Bulgarian Footballer of the Year for three straight seasons. Photo by James Greco/FGCU

“It’s our senior year, and we want to do our best to hopefully win it,” said Popadinova, named the Bulgarian Footballer of the Year for three straight seasons, including following her FGCU debut last season. “We can’t get another year.”

They have all the credentials to help FGCU return to the top.

Popadinova’s 14 goals for FGCU last season have been surpassed by only one player in program history: three-time ASUN Player of the Year Tabby Tindell, who did it three times. Undersized at 5-foot-4, but with lightning quickness and technical skills she inherited and learned from her father, Popadinova excelled in two seasons with NAIA Northwestern Ohio. She scored 12 goals as a freshman to help the Racers win the NAIA national title, then scored 19 more as a sophomore to earn NAIA second-team All-American status a second straight year.

But after coming to America not knowing the levels of college competition, she transferred to FGCU last year looking for better competition, as well as a springboard to a professional career. FGCU plays NCAA Division I soccer.

“You get better when you are challenged,” said Popadinova, who entered this season sharing ASUN Preseason Player of the Year honors and on the watch list for college soccer’s top individual award, the Hermann Trophy. “We are challenged here.”

Photo shows FGCU soccer player
Marjorie Boilesen earned ASUN first-team honors in her first two years at FGCU. Photo by James Greco/FGCU

Boilesen also started college elsewhere – at D-II West Florida in Pensacola, where she signed after not having the English fluency at the time to qualify academically for her first choice, Florida International University. But after scoring 12 goals to win league Player of the Year honors as a freshman, she also transferred to FGCU in search of better soccer and hopes of playing professionally.

“Once he showed me the campus, I was like, ‘I want to be here,’” Boilesen, who played on the under-17 and under-20 Brazilian national teams, said of Eagles coach Jim Blankenship. “When you get to talk to coaches and see how they treat you, you know how your experience is going to be. Here at FGCU, they were amazing about everything.”

Boilesen, who earned ASUN first-team honors in her first two years at FGCU, has already added to her career goal-scoring tally this season. She had both scores in FGCU’s 2-0 season-opening defeat of FIU and ranks sixth in program history with 20 career goals.

Regarding the environmental disaster in her homeland, Boilesen doesn’t mince words: we’re failing.

“It (produces) 20 percent of the world’s oxygen,” she said of the Amazon. “People should be worried about that. We’re failing to do our job with the Earth.”

With her family safe, though, Boilesen keeps her focus on the goal at FGCU – returning to No. 1.

“I think our whole team enjoys being out here,” she said. “We have a great team this year. We just really enjoy being out here with each other. It impacts (what happens) on the field.”

photo shows FGCU soccer players
Photo by Brad Young/FGCU