Unconventional Ways to Go Pro

I have always said that soccer is very much like life: it’s best when done full of fun, passion, and unconventionality. There are over 180 professional female soccer players in the United States at this given moment. These players are made up of college players, straight-out-of-high school players, international ballers, and everything in between. Though each has traveled her own path, and lived her own experience, their common dream is to reach the highest levels of their sport.

In the United States, there is a common notion that the best way to go pro is to attend a Division 1 university, do well there, and inevitably be drafted onto a professional soccer team. Sure, that seems simple enough on paper, but anyone who is or has been involved in youth soccer and beyond knows this road is much harder than it seems. In reality, the road to going pro is not a “one size fits all” approach. If it were, there would be thousands of professional players playing on hundreds of professional teams, which is neither realistic nor sustainable. What we have to remember is that, just like on the pitch, we all have different styles and ambitions.

When it comes to going pro, a few players will be successfully drafted from college while others will be completely bypassed. Does that mean those players who were overlooked should quit? For some, not being initially drafted may mean the end of their careers and sadly, their soccer dreams. But some of those overlooked will refuse to accept this outcome. So what are they to do?

Erin Simon is a current professional soccer player for the Houston Dash, the winner of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. Erin attended Syracuse University, but in 2015 she wasn’t drafted into the NWSL. Instead of giving up, Erin decided to attend a Sky Blue open tryout where she was seen and offered a contract. From there, Erin went on to play in England for West Ham, was named to the U.S. National Team U-23 in 2019, and soon after landed in Houston where she was deservingly part of the 2020 Championship team.

Another notable “path to pro” story is that of Jennifer Cudjoe, a Ghanian International player currently with Sky Blue. Born in Takoradi, Ghana, Jennifer started playing college ball in 2013 at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. She then bounced from one college to another, finally settling down in 2016 in Maine where she donned the colors of the UMFK Bengals. After college, Jennifer played roughly four years of semi pro soccer before signing a short-term contract with Sky Blue for the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. 

As a third example, we have the notable story of Lindsey Horan, USWNT player, and one of the most well-known professional players in the United States. Horan’s unconventional “path to pro” story consists of bypassing college soccer completely and diving straight into the world of European professional soccer with the female side PSG out of France in 2012.

Though I have highlighted these three distinct stories, there are numerous other stories leading to the same end goal: going pro. The point is this: don’t expect to follow the same path as another player because at the end of it all, you’re meant to follow your own. In soccer, as in life, the only thing often keeping us back from reaching our goals is the decision to not move forward. If you are committed to going pro, then do what it takes to expand your options: play semi-pro until you get seen, attend open try-outs, or go overseas. Do whatever it takes until you get to where you want to be.

Feature photo via Adobe Stock @FocusStocker



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