Campbell’s Long Road to the Top


Sara Campbell fights for a loose ball. (Courtesy Seattle Sounders Women)


Sara Campbell aspires to play in NWSL, the top flight of women’s soccer in the U.S.  The forward has played in college, overseas and currently in the W-League but still targets reaching the top.  She spoke to The Grainey Report about the challenges she has faced, playing overseas, and her plan to achieve her NWSL goal next season.

By Tim Grainey

Sara Campbell has been all over the world chasing her dream and hopes that 2014 will be the year it comes true. Her dream is to play in NWSL, the top flight of women’s soccer in the U.S.  Her journey started in Montana, growing up in Billings and playing collegiate soccer at the University of Montana in Missoula, but has taken her around the U.S. with stops at the W-League’s Seattle Sounders women, Colorado Rapids women, and the Chicago Red Eleven as well as to Swedish lower division side Kvarnsveden IK and Taringa Rovers in the Queensland State League in Australia.


Sara Campbell attacks the Colorado Women’s goalkeeper (Courtesy Seattle Sounders Women)

“I would like, before I retire, to get into the top league, NWSL,” Campbell told Soccer365’s Tim Grainey. “I’m in the process of letting my body re-group right now and I’ll get back to training here in Billings. When wintertime comes around, some of the NWSL teams will have trials; I’ll try to go out there and shine and try to get on a team and if that doesn’t work out, I’ll plan on playing W-League again [in 2014].”

The challenge facing many American players hoping to continue playing is that the number of opportunities is limited.

“I think if you were to talk to a lot of players in my situation, players who are done with college soccer, they would tell you that they want to continue playing but we need more opportunities here in the U.S. for players to be able to do that, particularly on the women’s side. Yes, I can play W-League but W-League is two and one-half to three months long. There are just a few teams that are pro teams in in the W-League.”

Most W-League franchises just reimburse players for expenses, particularly since they include a lot of college players during the summer.

Campbell admits she has been fortunate to play in Seattle, which she calls ‘The soccer mecca of America.’   She was the team’s leading scorer in 2013 with 4 goals and 1 assist in 11 games but says the down side is that the soccer crazy city has 2 women’s teams.

“When you have two clubs, both clubs are great because we have so much support in Seattle but I think a lot of fans were very confused about which league which team was in. The Sounders name is obviously the most recognizable name thanks to the men; however most people didn’t understand that the league we were playing in essentially was sort of a step down playing wise for the speed of play. None of our players are getting paid in the W-League versus the NWSL top league, [where] a lot of those players are at least making a little money playing.”

The focus is completely on the domestic game at this point in her life with Campbell loving the time and lessons learned abroad but believes it is time to stay home.


Beyond Bend it Like Beckham

“Your life is on hold (while playing abroad). I’m supposedly becoming an adult, people tell me [laughing]. So it’s hard to leave everything I’ve built up here. In a long season overseas, your learn a lot about the game and about your body and about being a professional, that would benefits me going into NWSL trials.”

And the experience does not end when players step off the field.

“It’s interesting as a player to experience how people talk about there’s a different culture with every country and that culture bleeds over into soccer. It’s cool to see how culture affect the style of play—the way they are in life is reflective in soccer—Swedes are friendly but disciplined. Australians are more laid back; [they are] out here to have fun and enjoy the game. Americans fight to the death; we have it to an extreme.”

So Campbell is prepared to fight for her dream but while she is training for her tryouts she works to give back to the younger players by coaching at Central High School in Billings working with the college programs in town – Montana State University-Billings and Rocky Mountain College, and starting an academy in her hometown, The Edge Soccer Academy.

“I want to give players that are coming through the system a better opportunity than I had.”

McNulty Off to Norway

One of Campbell’s Seattle Sounders teammates, Erin McNulty, is headed to Norway.  The goalkeeper signed with Norwegian Toppserien League side Alvadsnes IL, who won promotion this season, after her W-League season was finished.

McNulty will compete with current Icelandic international goalkeeper Guabjord Gunnarsdottir at Alvadsnes. The former Penn State star had seven wins and three shutouts and a Goals-Against-Average of 1.363 in 11 games with the Sounders.  She was named a Western Conference All Star in 2013.

The move overseas is not a surprise as she is a Canadian National Team pool player and could find herself playing in NWSL within the next few years.

Tim Grainey is a regular contributor on women’s soccer for Soccer365.  He is the author of the book, Beyond Bend it Like Beckham.

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