Franny Cerna’s Czech roots lead to a unique career 08/06/2022

If you said to a young Franny Cerna that one day she would play against the American national team, she would not have believed you.

Growing up in Berkeley, California, she followed American women, loved watching them win championships and idolized Alex Morgan, who she often saw play while attending Cal games. Then her own footballing exploits and her parents’ legacy led her to the Czech national team and a professional career with Slavia Praha.

Last February, she faced USA in the SheBelieves Cup in front of friends and family.

“My coaches told me I was going to substitute and I was so close to saying, ‘Uh, no! It’s way too scary,” Cerna says. “I walked in and Emilie Sonnet tried to dribble around me and I took the ball from him. It went much better than I thought. It was a really special moment. »

Cerna and the Czech Republic drew 0-0 with the defending World Cup champions – a huge result for a team that has never qualified for a Women’s World Cup.

“We showed everyone how we play,” Cerna said.

Last month, Cerna concluded his third season at Slavia Praha, who have won five of the last seven Czech league titles. Praha, who lost just one league game all last season, won the Czech Premier League and 2021-22 cup double. Cerna started every game, registering 10 goals and 10 assists in 25 games. In September, Slavia Praha will play for a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League group stage.

“We’re finally playing as a team, together, and it’s really paid off,” Cerna said. “The celebrations were awesome…confetti, champagne, everything…and the men honored us in their last home game – almost 20,000 people singing for us.”

Roman and Margit, Cerna’s parents, immigrated from the Czech Republic to California in the late 1980s before the Velvet Revolution. Roman, who knew Margit on the outskirts of school, brought her to the San Francisco Bay Area for a “vacation” — the two never looked back.

Cerna grew up playing club football for the Berkeley Mavericks and during her teenage years moved to Bay Oaks Botafogo, a highly competitive all-girls team from which five others turned pros. Born in San Francisco Stephanie Zunigawho is now part of the El Salvador national team, played for Brazilian Cruzeiro and Polish Medyk Konin. Aerial chavarin plays for Mexico’s Pumas Femenil in Mexico. Erin Greening played for Orlando Pride before a stint with Klepp IL in Norway’s Toppserien. Pug Hudson played for North Carolina Courage, Washington Spirit and French Guingamp. And Kyra Taylor played for Icelandic Fylkir.

Franny Cerna (kneeling, 3rd from right) with Bay Oaks Botafogo. Also Oakland-based team pro: Standing: Erin Greening (third from right), Carlin Hudson (second from right), Aerial Chavarin (far right); Stephanie Zuniga (kneeling, far right).

Bay Oaks Botafogo Head Coach Jon Nishimoto says the team was so competitive that the girls traveled from Modesto – nearly two hours away – to play with the team. Even so, Franny was one of the top performers.

“Franny is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met,” Nishimoto said. “And she’s always done it with a smile on her face. When she cares about the community she’s in, this kid will give you her heart.

While at Berkeley High School, Cerna scored 35 goals and 14 assists in her senior year and attracted varsity offers from several Division I schools. She chose DePaul University in Chicago and thrived there, scoring 33 goals and 14 assists in 77 games.

She connected with Slavia Praha in Prague for the Christmas holidays in 2018 with her family. Cerna knew some of the young women in the Czech U-19 national team and fit in perfectly. She made her debut for the full Czech national team midway through her second season. Cerna has made 12 appearances for the Czech Republic.

“Seeing what USA is doing for their players and knowing what we have here… it can make you jealous sometimes,” Cerna says. During the SheBelieves Cup in February, her national team received police escorts before games, a first for her and her teammates. Fans recognized them on Venice Beach. “There is still so much work to do for the Czech Republic and many countries in Europe.”

Slavia Praha plays in an eight-team league and attracts around 300 fans to matches. Players have their own pitch but are not allowed to use the men’s team gymnasium. For away games, players leave by bus on match day and arrive, in Cerna’s words, “broken off the bus”. Some players on her team have day jobs, although Cerna says it’s not necessary to live comfortably and salaries are rising every year.

The Slavia Praha men’s team was founded in 1896. The women’s team was founded in 1970 and the club is considered a pioneer of Czech women’s football. But his work environment is still behind the times.

“Inappropriate jokes are made about our bodies or our clothes,” Cerna says. “[The club staff] think it’s so funny. I’m always stuck between thinking whether or not I should take a stand and say something. … It’s never anything terrible. I’ve heard worse stories, but it’s still uncomfortable and I shouldn’t have to deal with it.

It helps to have great teammates she has grown close to over the years playing day in and day out in the Czech capital. “Being able to do what you love for a job…it’s kind of crazy. I wouldn’t do anything else,” she says.

What’s next for the 24-year-old? Cerna plans to join a new team in a new country. Its European Union passport makes it easier to travel and different countries with more established leagues could offer more financial security and a better playing environment. But Prague is a tough city to leave.

“My mother grew up here,” she says. “I walk the streets she has walked. The architecture, the nature, the food, the clubs. It’s non-stop fun. That’s probably why I’ve been here so long.

Berta D. Wells