It helps to know a few people when you're settling into a new club. Emma Koivisto wasn't long in picking up the phone to her Finland teammate Nora Heroum when the opportunity to play for Albion arose and Heroum convinced her that experiencing the WSL for the first time would be a great move.
But there was another familiar face around when she began training with the club last month. Megan Connolly and Koivisto were teammates a few years ago when they played for the Florida State University team together. In fact, Koivisto laid on a goal for Connolly in her final game in America in 2017.
The meteorological contrast between that day, when Florida State beat South Alabama State 2-1, and her reunion with Connolly last week in Albion’s stunning win over leaders Chelsea could not have been greater. It was 100 degrees on that August afternoon four years ago. Last Sunday, a freezing wind direct from the Baltic made conditions at Kingsmeadow as grim as they could be.
Not that Koivisto or Connolly minded. There was no combination leading to a goal this time, but Koivisto enjoyed a great debut at left-back while Connolly scored the winner direct from a corner and assisted Aileen Whelan for the first goal as Albion pulled off the biggest shock in the WSL for some time.
Since leaving America, Koivisto has won more than 60 Finland caps and played in the Champions League for her last club Gothenburg but she admits she didn’t need a lot of persuading by her compatriot to come to England for the next challenge in her career.
“It's one of the best leagues in the world and I was very interested in what it would be like,” she said. “The top teams have some of the best players in the world in them so I knew that the experience would help make me a better player. Nora told me what a good club Brighton was, and how they treat the players well, so in the end it was an easy decision to make. Obviously it helps that I know Nora well from the national team, it means that I can at least speak Finnish with her!”
Koivisto arrived in Brighton early in January but after a spell in quarantine her debut was delayed while international clearance came through. She was only able to train on her own until the week before the Chelsea game. “We knew what we were getting with Emma,” said head coach Hope Powell. “She's got a lot of experience and we saw that against Chelsea, she slotted in at left-back and looked like she'd played lots of games for us. She had been desperate to play and it was frustrating that it took so long but we have seen her qualities and I am sure there is more to come.”
Koivisto couldn't have dreamt of making a better start to her Albion career. “It was a dream debut for me,” she said. “It's never easy coming into a new team but the other players helped me so much and to beat such a strong team as Chelsea was better than I could have hoped. It was such a brilliant team effort.”
She also got a taste of what to expect over the next 18 months from the WSL. “The tempo is definitely higher than it was in Sweden and it's more physical, but I enjoyed that. In my role I like to get forward as much as I can, and against Chelsea we had a lot of defending to do, but it is an area of the game where I think I can offer a lot to the team. It was a great start for me and hopefully we can build on the result.”