Have you ever seen that film with Gwenyth Paltrow called Sliding Doors? In a nutshell, the screenplay tells two tales. In one, Gwenyth’s character catches a train providing the catalyst for a series of events, in another, she misses the train, and predictably, her life unfolds very differently.

Hollywood and sport have little to do with each other, but I reckon I had my ‘sliding doors’ moment when I played with former Canadian national team player Carmelina Moscato.

I was almost 18 at the time and had made the cut in the W-League and was playing alongside Carmelina at Western Sydney Wanderers.

Staying in Australia, studying and following the tried and tested pathway to professional and international football; it all just seemed to make sense.

I had aspirations to play for the Matildas and was assessing study options at the University of Queensland and Sydney University because I’d always valued my tertiary education.

Except I kept getting messages from a coach within in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) soccer set-up.

For a football player in the Australian system, going over to the United States was seen as a bridge too far.

There was an associated stigma where if you went over, you wouldn’t be seen by national team selectors because you’re not in the W-League.

The overall impression that a move to the United States had on people within Australian football wasn’t positive.

But Carmelina was insistent. She was nearing the end of her storied career, and with the advice from another fellow teammate, Keelin Winters, they both spoke extremely high of UCLA’s program.

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more footy this saturday @ UCLA

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When you have someone on your team, a player who has been to world cups, the Olympics, and they’re telling you something very different from conventional wisdom, you at least listen. And I did.

But I did more than look into it.

A week after my chat with Carm, I took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), then a month later, I signed with UCLA. I figured that if I didn’t like it, I could just come home.

I was in that awkward post-teen phase, not yet 20 years of age. I didn’t have much to lose, and to my great surprise, I thrived. I loved it!

I was playing Thursdays and Sundays, and I could combine football and pursue my academic career in a way I could never have done back home. Very quickly I thought, ‘why don’t more Australians do this’?

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THE LAST RIDE

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Now, I want to be very clear here. I am not saying for a moment that the existing system in Australia will not provide a just reward for a player’s decision to stay in domestic programs and pursue the Matildas through those pathways.

Especially with the new Young Matildas program the girls are being provided a very solid foundation for success. However, this wasn’t around when I was first making the move.

When I left, people said that I’d never make the national team. But I said well why not? There is so much unseen talent here in the American league and I firmly believe being exposed to the physicality of the American game and different styles of play this early on in my career has helped me immensely. 

I knew I wasn’t good enough for the Matildas in my first season at UCLA. But honestly, I was so happy there.

I didn’t have the pressure of vying for national team selection, and I wasn’t in the Australian system anymore, so in a way I felt free. But in my sophomore year, I did get the call up to be in the Matilda’s squad for the Tournament of Nations.

Even though I didn’t get any game time, just being a part of the squad and becoming familiar with what is required to compete at that level was invaluable.

I was now on the selectors’ radar, and I started communicating with them a lot more; I kept sending in the footage, and I shared my training regimes.

In the years before leaving for Los Angeles, I felt as though I was losing my passion for football. I might still be young in the grand scheme of things but going to the United States reignited my love for the game.

Since I have been at UCLA, former Melbourne Victory and City player Beattie Goad started playing for Stanford, and Rachel Lowe, who is in the Young Matildas squad, signed for UCLA as well.

I love that more Aussies are now taking the US College route to success. The United States makes it possible for us to gain a degree and play football at the same time, which helps set up our post-playing careers.

The standard of the competition is high, as you’d expect from the best university sport system in the world and the facilities at UCLA are fantastic. It’s definitely on par, or even better, than what we have at the AIS.

Do I feel like a trailblazer? Yeah, I suppose I do. I figured out I had to send videos of my games back home. I mean, how else were influential people within the Australian game going to see my performances? I have two games a week that I’d send footage of, so it wasn’t hard.

I love that people in the Australian set up are now becoming aware that the US college system is fantastic and can help our players mix both academics and soccer at a high level. 

I’d say the hardest thing for a young player to do is take that leap of faith. Leave the familiar environment of home and travel to where they won’t know many people.

I miss things that I wouldn’t if I were at home, but that was going to happen anyway as I’ve always had ambitions on playing abroad. I’m actually going to look to play in Europe after this years W-League season.

I think being taken out of your comfort zone early in a career truly helps a professional athlete.

Look at it this way; if you’re planning on pursuing football as a career, then it’s best to take a long-term view. There are so many opportunities to play in competitions around the world, so I suggest to anyone to go and grasp the opportunity!

I know that I will be a long time retired from football, so I am taking the chance to play in elite competitions whenever and wherever I can. 

Hollywood endings exist in movies only. But I know that life presents us with opportunities to reveal our potential and be the very best version of ourselves possible.

I’m so grateful for Carm’s advice as I’d likely have never taken the UCLA route were it not for my ‘sliding doors’ moment!