Roebuck and Stanway provide the case for home comforts as Neville shows faith in the next generation.
The year 2017 was an almost unprecedented year for young English players choosing to study abroad in the United States as well as commit to three or four years out of the limelight playing college soccer.
Unprecedented, perhaps, but numerically it wasn’t usual. Several current England internationals, including Lucy Bronze and Demi Stokes, have taken the opportunity to leave behind friends, family, and life at home for new adventures across the pond before returning to the FA Women’s Super League.
The temptation for many is that it’s not just a potential passageway into the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) but a life experience, too; as well as working with some of the top college coaches in the world and playing a decent level of football, there’s the opportunity to work and study for a degree inclusively, something that remains difficult in England.
Of the most recent U-20 England squad named at the end of 2017 to go to the U.S. for a series of friendlies to prepare for this year’s U-20 World Cup, eight of them have moved to the U.S. in the past year to study at different universities.
Sandy MacIver (Clemson), Grace Fisk (South Carolina), Anna Patten (Florida State), Georgia Allen (Syracuse), Zoe Cross (Missouri), Mollie Rouse (Louisville), Lotte Wubben-Moy, and Alessia Russo (both North Carolina) have all stepped away from England to pursue the next stage of their careers at the other side of the Atlantic, with late call-ups Lucy Parker (LSU) and Kess Elmore (Connecticut) also studying in the U.S.
It’s not just the volume of players moving that is surprising, it’s what many give up and what it says about how many will go abroad in the future. Patten and Wubben-Moy both played every game of Arsenal’s Spring Series campaign where they were part of a defense that went unbeaten throughout the competition.
It shows just how much is on offer in the U.S. that many feel it’s a better alternative than regular first-team football in the FA WSL. OurGame Magazine asked England U-20 head coach Mo Marley last year about why so many are going abroad: “Young 18-year-olds in our league don’t have those opportunities to train full-time, play games on top of that, and get an education.
“Even if they are training full-time, they need to be able to play at the end of it or else it’s no use to them. We have players in this group who have been to the USA and it’s done them good but long-term we want to give our players the option of being able to stay here in England.”
There is, of course, the opportunity to play full-time post-college should players be lucky enough and talented enough to be one of the 40 players picked annually in the NWSL College Draft. Other players like Stokes and Megan Campbell may have been snapped up by Manchester City at the end of their collegiate careers but Rachel Daly and Leah Galton were both early draft picks in 2016 for Houston Dash and Sky Blue FC, respectively.
As Marley and the Football Association look for a way to tempt the best young Lionesses to stay in England, has Phil Neville just thrown open the door of opportunity which may just do the trick?
After four years of watching former head coach Mark Sampson loyally stick by a group of players who had been together for most of their careers, Neville’s first squad was in places unrecognizable.
Of course, the majority of late call-ups to the squad were due to injuries to key senior players such as Steph Houghton, Karen Carney, and Jordan Nobbs, but Neville’s keenness to bring in Manchester City duo Ellie Roebuck and Georgia Stanway shows that players in England have one distinct advantage over their teammates in America — proximity — and thus the chance of an international call-up to the senior team.
While the Russos, Wubben-Moys, Fisks, and on are every bit as talented as Roebuck or Stanway, the reality is that a senior England call-up is less than likely during their time playing college football. Daly received a call-up to Sampson’s first squad shortly after moving to America but didn’t receive a call-up again until she’d graduated from college soccer to NWSL soccer with the Dash.
Roebuck was an extra player outside of the group of 23 but Stanway was eligible to play in the recent SheBelieves Cup and though neither saw any game time, both gained invaluable lessons of being around senior England players, the chance to train under the nose of the new head coach, and get a feel for the stresses and strains of a trip away with the first team, including the intense training sessions and constant travel that surrounds a senior environment.
Despite their talent, it’s something the current crop of college stars probably won’t experience for another three years at least, unless they perform to levels high enough to grab the attention of Neville from the other side of the ocean.
It’s a shame that it appears to be one or the other and there are players who performed to levels in college soccer last year who would more than merit an England call-up were they doing it closer to home, but the recent and rapid rise of Roebuck and Stanway from teenagers to international call-ups will give many youngsters thinking about going abroad food for thought.
It’s hard for anyone to resist the temptation of a move abroad and both Roebuck and Stanway are already in a privileged position of being able to rely on full-time contracts with the current FA WSL champions while many others are merely fringe players at FA WSL 1 clubs or regulars for part-time clubs in FA WSL 2.
Both players will likely drop back down the ranks to take part in August’s U-20 World Cup and both players turned down several offers from top universities to pursue their careers in the U.S., instead choosing to chase first-team football in Manchester.
With the next batch of youngsters set to decide between continuing their careers in England or heading abroad, the changes to this year’s FA WSL are more important than ever for the next generation. Grab yourself a spot with a tier one club and you’re guaranteed a full-time contract, but for the talented youngsters who will end up in tier two, the lure of full-time training and a thorough education in the United States will be more impossible to reject than ever.