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Emily Sands finished her career at Penn starting in 57 games and scoring 17 goals over the course of four years.

Credit: Son Nguyen

Emily Sands isn't letting anything slow down her prolific soccer career.

After finishing her four-year career as a Quaker with two game-winning goals, along with a career total of 48 points, which is tied for 10th most in Penn history, the forward is continuing her time on the field with Boavista Futebol Clube, a prominent professional team in Portugal.

Entering her senior season, Sands was faced with a difficult decision between continuing to pursue a professional career in soccer or journey down a potential career path, beginning with her job as an operations intern for Major League Soccer.

As a former Ivy League player, Sands is unable to take advantage of the NCAA's decision to grant fall athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, she firmly knew she wanted to stay connected to soccer or sports in some way. And when the fall season ended, Sands knew she was not done playing soccer.

Throughout the year, Sands had been reviewing and expanding her options for playing after graduation, as she connected with college coaches and former club coaches. One of those coaches recommended that Sands sign with an agent to manage the networking and business aspects of her career, and she did.

But as the pandemic escalated from March to June, all Sands and other athletes could do was stay in shape and remain focused on the moment, as no opportunity for play was available. Then, Sands faced a different yet equally difficult decision between her career path or continuing to train in the hopes of returning to play.

Around June, Sands’ agent was able to schedule a private clinic — originally a larger-scale scouting session — with the head coach at Boavista. A couple weeks later, Sands was offered a spot on the team. After a month of delays and complications regarding restrictions on travel, she officially signed with the club.

She made it to Portugal in mid-August, and her prior experience abroad in Spain had prepared her well for the transition. She immediately gelled with the coaching style, though admittedly felt lost when the coaches forgot to explain some drill instructions in English.

“I was definitely excited just to get started and get playing with the team again and to meet my teammates, especially all the Portuguese ones," Sands said. "All the locals have been super welcoming, and we’re trying our best to communicate with each other, even though I don’t speak the language. Soccer is one thing where there is no barrier, it’s just the game.”

Though Sands is making a new home in Porto, a little bit of Philadelphia followed her along, as she is rooming with a former player from Drexel. In addition to Sands and her roommate, there are three other Americans who recently joined the club from all across the country.

“My four years I built such strong relationships with all my teammates, a lot of other athletes, and people that I lived with, so I think that’s what I miss the most,” said Sands. “It’s a different team environment, because it’s like a job: you go, you do your job, you go home.”

Sands has certainly been appreciative of having a few other people by her side that are in her exact position and are understanding of her struggles. When they need a little rest from practice and adapting to their new lives, they can always speak some English to each other. 

As of now, Sands and Boavista FC are continuing to train under the appropriate safety regulations and wish to return to the competitive season as quickly as possible, hoping to bring another championship to the venerable women’s club.

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