Benefield: Sonoma State assistant coach going far to go pro in soccer

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The Sonoma State Seawolves women’s soccer team were training on Friday — the last session before Margi Osmundson would be leaving her post as assistant coach.

But per usual, Osmundson, a 2016 SSU grad, was suited up with the Seawolves and taking part in the drills.

As head coach Emiria Salzmann Dunn recalls, the players were scrimmaging and Osmundson was playing for one of the sides. When a deflected shot — taken by the team opposing Osmundson — looked like it was going to trickle across the line and be a goal for the other team, Salzmann Dunn watched as her 25-year-old assistant coach sprinted toward the goal, slid to keep the ball from going in and, in doing so, smacked into the post. There was a worrying thud.

For a split second, Salzmann Dunn was terrified that Osmundson had broken her tibia or something equally gruesome.

“But she got up and was organizing everyone on the team,” Salzmann Dunn recalled.

No broken tibia. No blood. Not even a pause. Osmundson didn’t even take a full breath before she was up directing traffic on the field again.

“That’s not even coaching,” Salzmann Dunn said. “That is just a player that doesn’t like to lose.”

And that’s someone who puts it all on the line every time out — even when she’s scheduled to board a plane the next day to fly halfway around the world for her new gig as a professional soccer player.

Two years after graduating from Sonoma State as a two-time All-West Region pick and an All-American first-teamer her senior year, Osmundson inked a deal to play professionally in Brazil with International in Porto Alegre, in the southern region of the country near the border with Uruguay.

She flew out Saturday night — about 36 hours after slamming into that post.

“This has been something I have wanted since I was four years old,” she said. She remembers saying it to all who would listen: ‘My name is Margi Osmundson and I want to be a professional soccer player.”

I called Osmundson’s mom, Cappi, for confirmation.

“She has been saying she wants to play professional soccer since she was four years old,” Cappi said.

But expressing a wish as a kid barely older than a toddler and making good on it are two very different things.

But Osmundson has chased, and found, success at every point in her soccer career. She led the Casa Grande Gauchos to a North Coast Section title in 2010. She signed with Sonoma State and was a player expected to make an immediate impact.

But she didn’t. And this is the point in her trajectory that is perhaps most interesting.

Osmundson redshirted her freshman year. She let her grades slip and needed to buckle down academically, but it was more than that. Salzmann Dunn, then in her first year as coach at SSU, felt like something was lacking in the way Osmundson was playing and the way she was going about her craft.

“There was a time I had to pull Margi into the office and say, ‘I don’t know if this is the program for you,’” Salzmann Dunn said. “The reason was, she wasn’t fully committed to any part of her life at that time.”

Salzmann Dunn acknowledged Osmundson’s gifts but told her that wasn’t enough.

“You can’t just ride off the fact that you are talented,” she said. “I rode her in training hard. A lot. I really did.”

Salzmann Dunn kept riding Osmundson, but something shifted.

“She became the easiest person in the world to coach,” Salzmann Dunn said.

It’s almost funny to think about now because according to Salzmann Dunn, Osmundson is a near-legend for her work ethic, her fitness level, her ability to endure and her commitment to her team. She was listed as a midfielder, but Salzmann Dunn slotted her into multiple positions many times, depending on what the team needed.

Osmundson always delivered.

“But we had to go through that patch,” Salzmann Dunn said. “Margi went through all that. That is what people don’t see sometimes. A lot of behind the scenes that was really pushing her and getting outside her comfort zone.”

Osmundson must be getting comfortable getting outside her comfort zone, because this week she started meetings and training in Porto Alegre with her pro team.

She is two years removed from playing Division II soccer, doesn’t speak Portuguese and is 10,610 miles from home.

Bring it. She’s been working more than two decades for this.

“If I don’t go and do this now, my time clock is ticking,” she said. “If I don’t do it now, I will forever, probably, just keep kicking myself. I have to try it and at least see if this is something that I can do and if this is something I want.”

Osmundson said she made a “half-ass swing” at trying to make a professional squad a year and a half ago, but put it on hold to coach, first at Holy Names University in Oakland and then at SSU. But something kept gnawing at her. She was fit from training with the team and from playing with the San Francisco Nighthawks.

Her desire to play was never in question. And she still loved it.

She put together a tape. Connections got it into the hands of the team officials in Porto Alegre.

“They called me Jan. 5. I gave it a day to think about it. I accepted on the sixth. On the ninth they said I needed to be in Brazil on Feb. 4,” she said. “In some cases I think it’s better that you don’t have time to rethink or second guess. I haven’t once second-guessed my decision.”

The club will provide housing, give her a food stipend and pay her a salary. She is the only American on the roster.

“I’m absolutely going to try my best to learn the language,” she said. “It’s not just about playing soccer but living their lifestyle, seeing the cultural differences.”

Salzmann Dunn has no doubt Osmundson will thrive.

“Her level of fitness and endurance? She’s just special,” she said. “She’s a total competitor. Her work rate is phenomenal. Her leadership on the field? I don’t know that I have ever seen a player who leads the way she does.”

Case in point: After that sit-down with coach her redshirt year, Osmundson started every single game of her Sonoma State career, barring those handful of games that she was out with an injury.

“She can win games for you,” Salzmann Dunn said.

Now Osmundson wants to win games in Brazil. She’s not going on a travel holiday. If things go well, she’d like to make this play out into a long-term gig, whether it’s in Brazil or Australia or the U.S.

It starts now.

“I’m restarting a whole new career,” she said. “Going into college was one thing. Now, I have to do it all over again. I’m completely ready to work my way into the starting lineup.”

But there is excitement in her voice. The challenge is laid out before her. And in some ways, she’s been here before.

“It’s a dream and I have stuck to it,” she said. “It’s really cool to see it finally playing out.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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