In England, soccer is not just a sport; it is a passion, a way of life, a facet in English society that sits on a higher plateau than any other sport. Surprisingly, however, most gifted female soccer players come to the United States to make a name for themselves in the game they love.
Take freshman defender Annie Ward, for example.
In her native England, Ward played club soccer for Sheffield United in a stunning career that saw her earn the title of team captain, the manager’s Player of the Year award and a league cup title. After her final year for Sheffield, Ward was left to wonder whether or not soccer was going to play as dominant a role as it had in years past.
“Women’s soccer is almost non-existent back home,” Ward said. “Women’s sports are not nearly as developed or as prominent in England as they are here in America. If I stayed home, I wouldn’t be able to go nearly as far in my sport and I feel that while you are young, you want to be as good as you can be. I feel like I can be at my best playing here.”
With that, Annie made up her mind and decided she was going to study and play for Massachusetts. From the minute she earned a spot on the roster, she realized that there was still much to learn about her favorite sport.
“Here, it’s a much different way of playing the game,” Ward said. “Soccer’s much more tactical, it’s a lot quicker, there’s more offense and there’s more passing. The players are very strong, very conditioned and the competition is much tougher. The transition was difficult given the ball in the air style of play that I grew up with.”
Though the transition may have been a struggle at first, Ward is fitting in nicely with a young and eager UMass team.
“We’re coming together well,” Ward said. “We’re a younger team that brings a lot of energy to win and the coaches are very good as well. Even though we just had our bad week [losses to Michigan and Oakland], we’ll rebound strongly and look to hold our own in the Atlantic 10.
“We have great capabilities, we just need to come together completely,” Ward added. “I know that if we go into every single game and compete to those capabilities, we’ll finish the season strong.”
As she looked back on her experiences of the season so far, Ward knew instantly which ones would always stay with her.
“Starting against Washington was the best experience for me so far,” Ward said. “Even though we lost the game 3-1, just stepping on the field and realizing that I was here to play on a level that I never thought I’d play at before really showed me what I’m capable of.”
When asked about whether or not she would bring what she learns here back home with her, Ward could not help but smile.
“I’m a more knowledgeable player in playing here,” she said. “I know that, if I went back to my old team, I could bring so much for them. It’s hard to change the perception of women’s soccer in England, but I’d love to try.”
David Martin can be reached at email@example.com.