Soccer

Euro trip? Women's soccer stars feel pull from both sides of the pond

At some point in their pro careers, many female soccer players from North America debate whether to play closer to home or head to Europe. But just because the grass can look greener (and the money bigger) overseas, the decision isn't such a no-brainer.

European, North American clubs offer different perks

Canada's Kadeisha Buchanan is one of the players who chose the prestige and riches of European pro soccer over staying in North America. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Should I stay or should I go?

At some point in their professional careers, many female soccer players from North America debate whether to play closer to home in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) or head to Europe.

Over the past year, Europe giants such as France's Olympique Lyonnais have flexed their financial muscle to bring stars like Canada's Kadeisha Buchanan across the pond.

But just because the grass can look greener (and the money bigger) overseas, the decision isn't such a no-brainer.

Money talks

Buchanan is one of the players who chose the prestige of a European club and the chance to play in the women's Champions League over staying in North America.

After another standout season at West Virginia University, Buchanan won the 2016 MAC Hermann Trophy as the NCAA's top female soccer player. The 21-year-old defender from Brampton, Ont., was projected to be a high pick in the NWSL draft, but elected to play in Europe.

"It's more about my development than becoming the face of a franchise," says Buchanan. "Here [at Olympique Lyonnais] it's just about soccer, and if I was a franchise player [in the NWSL] it would've been more things other than soccer."

There's also the money. European clubs are usually able to outbid their NWSL counterparts for top players.

"It was a major factor," says Buchanan. "You're only in this game for about 10 to 15 more years so it's important when you retire that you are financially stable. Being from a huge family, I have to provide for myself and help my family."

John Herdman, who coaches the Canadian women's national team, understands the attraction.

"Professional football is a short career. If you can earn triple, quadruple [in Europe] what you're earning in the U.S., then people will move and that's fair game," he says. "As a coach, it's difficult to tell someone that's probably got a shelf life of 10 years, 'You can't go make money. You gotta stay at home and live with what you got.'"

Europe's soccer-mad culture can also be a pull for North American players.

"These kids are seeing new opportunities in Europe," Herdman says. "They want to experience another part of the world… experience new cultures and their career can do that for them."

No place like home

That doesn't mean the NWSL, whose 10 teams are all based in the United States, is without its benefits.

Desiree Scott has experienced both sides of the pond. The Winnipeg native, who plays for FC Kansas City in the NWSL, spent time with England's Notts County during the 2014-2015 season.

Canadian Desiree Scott, right, played for England's Notts County before moving to Kansas City of the NWSL. (Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Though it's the less heralded league, Scott praises the competitive environment in the NWSL.

"Every game, you're going toe-to-toe with each team," she says. "It's physical and it's some of the best players in the world each weekend.

"In the England league, there's two divisions. Some games you're playing against the Man Citys, the Arsenals, the big clubs that people dream about playing for. But the next week you could be playing a [second-division] team. In terms of competitive games, it varies."

For Herdman, the NWSL provides an opportunity to keep top players close to home, playing a schedule that meshes with the national team's.

The NWSL league provides extended training windows at the end of each season — on top of the scheduled FIFA international windows — during which national team players are excused from their club team to join their country.

"[It] ultimately meant we got more training windows than teams like Germany, Sweden and France, which would lead to us being more connected off the pitch as well as on the pitch," says Herdman.

For club and country

With four years between Olympic Games, players have the opportunity to blend European and North American stints while fulfilling their duties to their national team.

Years three and four of the quadrennial cycle revolve around the World Cup and the Olympics, so players will often return to play in the NWSL during that time to maximize preparation and training time with their national teams.

With fewer international events in the first two years of the quadrennial, players can focus on their personal growth as a player without worry of neglecting the national team.

"At this point, players will be thinking, 'I want to win a club title, I want to win a Champions League' so let's go spread our wings for a couple of years and put our attention on our pro career," says Herdman.

The Canadian coach encourages his players to take that leap of faith, even if it means spending less time with the national squad.

"These players have earned the right to play on arguably the top professional teams in the world," Herdman says. "As a national coach, you have to respect that if your players are training every day with the best players, then they don't need to be training with Canada. They'll actually bring something back at a level that will enhance our own group."

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