Melbourne City’s Aivi Luik shares with the PFA her experiences of her initial foray overseas in the United States at Brescia University, the University of Nevada and FC Indiana and the impact it had on her on and off the pitch.


It would not be an exaggeration to call Aivi Luik one of the most well traveled players in Australian football today. The 31-year-old Perth born, Queensland raised Matilda has played for the Brisbane Roar, Perth Glory and Melbourne City in the W-League, winning championships with Brisbane in 2011 and City in 2016, but also has had spells in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Iceland, Denmark and the Ukraine.

A lack of opportunity at home was the spark for her overseas odyssey.

“I wanted to go to America to continue playing, basically because we didn’t have any W-League here and all I wanted to do was play football and America gave me the opportunity to both get your degree and play football,” said Luik.

“One of the girls I idolized growing up, Prue Cormie, she had gone over to America and said it was great and so I was keen to go and do that. She went to Virginia Commonwealth on the East Coast so I was looking into going there, but then they had a drop off in funding. Then I ran into this girl, who I didn’t recognize, she saw me at a library and said ‘my boyfriend is recruiting for one of the coaches at his university’ [Brescia University] and apparently he played at the same [junior] club as me and she said ‘would you be interested in having a chat to him?’ I said of course, so I just chatted with him and through him the women’s coach offered me a scholarship to go play.”

Brescia University, a catholic school of around 800 students in Kentucky, 170km west of Louisville, plays in the NAIA; the secondary tier of collegiate sports below NCAA Divisions 1 and 2.

“Going from living at the beach to being in this landlocked, small country town in America was a bit of a shock. I remember the bus trips being one of the suckiest things about it because we don’t mind a good road trip here in Australia, but Americans love a good road trip, there were often times when we would travel to games in a bus between 8 and 10-11 hours so those weren’t the most fun.”

On the pitch, the future Matilda soon began to find the competition at the NAIA level below what she had been hoping for.

“Prior to going over there I didn’t really know how the system works, I didn’t know there was two different divisions like the NAIA and the NCAA. The team wasn’t that great, so after two years I wanted to play D1 [NCAA Division 1], once I knew what it was all about and whatnot I just I wanted to go play D1.”

Following her Sophomore year an opportunity to move to the Division 1 level presented itself when Brescia alum Graham Abel (now goalkeeper coach of the US Women’s National Team) recruited Luik to transfer to the significantly more well resourced Div 1 University of Nevada in Reno, the Wolf Pack, in time for the 2006 season.

“It [Nevada] was amazing. It felt like, with all due respect to Brescia, like I’d turned pro overnight. The facilities were amazing, Mackay Stadium [Nevada’s home ground] is this nice big stadium with a turf pitch where both football and American football was played. We were given cleats, we were sponsored by Adidas. It felt really professional, it felt really organized, the medical was really good, the strength and conditioning was good, the gym was really, really nice; it was pretty cool.”

The higher level of competition also gave Luik the opportunity to taste some of the successes unique to the American collegiate system.

“I was able to be part of the first [Nevada] team that got the NCAA Finals, that was a pretty big deal. We won the WAC [West American Conference], we beat Fresno [State] who were our huge rivals. It was great for the seniors, who had been with the team their whole career and had suffered really bad losses almost every season. That season we all just played great and we got to the [WAC Conference] final, we won it, I scored the winning penalty, which was an awesome feeling and then we went through to the NCAA tournament.”

After exhausting her college eligibility and graduating with a degree in Geography, Luik continued her playing career with FC Indiana of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, the second tier of women’s professional football in the USA, a setting she attributes much to her development as a player.

“FC Indiana, for the most part, were usually one of the strongest in the league and we were very lucky we had players from the Mexican national team, we even had some U20 US national team players, some Canadians, some Africans our team was stacked with really good players and I learned a lot there and our coach [Shek Borkowski] was really good too.

“The quality of the football and the coaching, how often we trained all of that was really good. The team’s that we played in the comp, until we got to finals most of them were just pretty average, so it was more the development I got during training and spending that time with those players and the coach that was really beneficial and then once we got to finals we met some good team and the football was really class.”

Luik returned to Australia for the 2009 W-League season. A move she had always planned to make.

“The only real reason I left [Australia] was because there was no further football options for me here in Australia and I didn’t want to play just locally, that was never me, I’m very competitive. So once I heard that the league was starting up, I missed the first [season] because I was still over there [in the US], I made it back for the second one [2009 season] and joined Brisbane. It was always the plan.”

Despite professing her desire to always return to and play in Australia, Luik reflects that she would recommend the collegiate system to a young girl looking to forge her on path in football even in the current Australian footballing landscape.

“I would probably still say to go because our league here is only three months, so what do yo do in the off-season? There’s not enough high level football to be able to maintain and grow and learn as a young player, so I would say go over. But I’m also biased because for me college was such an amazing experience and it wasn’t just the football side of it and the fact that you got a free degree out of it, but the people you met and just the way things are run over there, college sports is huge over there, it’s like they are professional sports, they put it on TV.

“And you can still do all that, and then come back here and  be part of the national team if you want. I think a lot of people, a lot of young girls are worried that if they make that choice that it’s kind of one or the other but that’s not at all how it is, my first year in the national team was when I came back from America.”

However, she adds one important caveat.

“If it’s not D1 then you’re kind of not serious about football, if you want to go over there, play a bit of football a little bit less competitively sure, but if you want to play over there and do the degree and still come back here and play at a high level it’s got to be D1. If it wasn’t and you’re serious about football I’d probably say no then.”