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Feb, 2020

From Internationals SC to the NWSL: The Story of Taylor Leach

Taylor Leach’s journey from Maumee, Ohio to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) has been a long one that has spanned thousands of miles.  Leach’s journey began at the age of 15 when she decided she needed more from her club soccer experience.  She had been playing locally in Toledo, but then made the choice to travel over two hours one-way to Medina, Ohio.  She wanted to play at the next level and to do that, she needed a club that was capable of getting her there.  Internationals SC, which has sent over 350 players to the college game, was just that club. 

Moving to Internationals was a gamechanger for Leach, who benefited greatly from the club’s professional coaching, high-level training sessions, and experience in the recruiting process.  Leach credited both Zdravko Popovic and Keri Sarver for making her a better player on and off the field.

“Zdravko and Keri were amazing,” Leach said. “I can’t express how much they impacted my career.  I can’t give them enough credit.”   

The feeling is mutual as Sarver and the entire club are very proud of what Leach has accomplished. 

"We are so thrilled to see Taylor back in the USA competing in the NWSL,” Sarver said. “She is an amazing example and role model for our young players - someone who set high goals for herself at a young age and learned to prioritize and commit to her plan and it has paid off in a multitude of ways.  Her experience playing in Europe, leadership, toughness, and soccer intelligence will be a huge asset to Utah Royals FC.  Taylor will be one of three former Internationals players to play in the NWSL this season and we will be following all the action with pride."

Internationals SC provided Leach with incredible exposure and she was soon visiting some of the top programs in the entire country.  But she felt a special connection with the University of South Carolina and committed there after returning from a recruiting visit.

“I fell in love the second I stepped on campus,” Leach recalled.

University of South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith and associate head coach Jamie Smith, a wife and husband team, made quite an impression on Leach.

“They brought a family-oriented vibe,” Leach noted. “The girls on the team were amazing.  They were very welcoming.  I was blessed to play there and for them.”

Leach went on to a decorated career in Columbia, SC.  She was a three-year captain that played nearly 6,000 minutes for the Gamecocks.  She played in 86 games (67 starts), tallying six goals and three assists.  Half of her goals were game-winners. Leach earned over twenty major awards including NSCAA Second Team Scholar All-America, First-Team All-SEC, NSCAA All-Region First Team, Capital One All-District Team, and Capital One Academic All-America Third Team honors. 

“Jamie (Smith) taught me to be a better defender and approach the game differently,” Leach added.

Being a standout defender provided her opportunities overseas.  Her next stop would be Sweden, where she would spend four seasons with the likes of Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC, Östersunds DFF, and Sunnanå SK.  This allowed her to play with world-class players including players with Sweden’s national team and the one and only Christen Press.

“I was able to live in a different country, experience a different culture and a different language,” Leach continued. “I was living in a different environment.  I adapted to their style of football and life off the field. I was working and meeting with new people.”

The Swedish game proved to be a more technical style of play focused on possession, playing out of the back, and playing out of pressure. Leach enjoyed her time in Europe, but was elated to return to the U.S. with Utah Royals FC of the NWSL.  She admitted that “it was a fantastic opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”

She now looks forward to playing in the U.S., playing with and against new players.  “I’ll take what I learned overseas and bring it here,” Leach added.  “I will learn from the experienced players and teach the younger players.”

Playing in the U.S. will allow her family and friends to actually see her play in professional games, something that was difficult while in Sweden.  Leach will also have the chance to see some familiar faces on the pitch when she faces off against fellow Internationals SC alums Emily Ogle and Christen Westphal on June 21st, July 19th, and September 6th when Utah takes on Portland Thorns FC in league play.   

In Utah she’ll be playing alongside national team players from around the world, most notably Nicole Barnhart, Kelley O’Hara, Amy Rodriguez, and the aforementioned Press.

Leach will be part of a highly successful NWSL that has benefited from the meteoric success of the U.S. Women’s National Team and their two Women’s World Cup titles.  She reflected on the fall of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) and Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), but admits things are much different now. 

“The national team’s following has been unreal,” Leach concluded. “There is such a huge following at women’s games.”

Those fans will now be turning out to see Leach, a player that is known for her tenacity, vocalness, and leadership.  And because of quality players like Leach, URFC have their sights set on making the playoffs and winning a league championship. 

Photos Courtesy of South Carolina Athletics and Utah Royals FC

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