With the U.S. Soccer Federation consistently scheduling almost year-round programming for the U.S. Under-15, Under-17, Under-20 and Under-23 Women’s National Teams, as well as holding the U.S. U-14 Identification Camp every summer, it’s a very rare thing for a players’ first national team experience to come with the senior team.
Meet goalkeeper Jill Loyden.
The 5-foot-10 Loyden was a top youth goalkeeper in New Jersey, where she played in the Olympic Development Program and on the Region I team with Heather O’Reilly and Yael Averbuch. But never once did she get a call to a national team camp at any age level.
Loyden went to Villanova in Philadelphia, which is not one of your glamorous women’s soccer schools, but she had a great career for the Wildcats. After red-shirting her freshman year, she was a four-year starter, setting school career records for shutouts, victories and minutes played. She finished her 82-game career with 7,542 minutes played which ranked 10th in Division I history and was named Big East Goalkeeper of the Year for the three straight seasons, an unprecedented achievement.
That kind of college career was good enough to get her taken by the St. Louis Athletica in the fifth round of the 2009 WPS Draft. The starter in St. Louis? Hope Solo, the USA’s #1. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“I was just really excited to work with her,” said Loyden. “If I was going to back up anyone, I would want it to be her. She‘s one of the best goalkeepers in the world and in retrospect, I was very fortunate, because I was able to learn so much from her.”
During the season, U.S. goalkeeper coach Paul Rogers joined the Athletica staff, giving Loyden a double-dose of the best possible role model and coaching. She ended up playing in three WPS matches while Solo was away on national team duty. One of those was a 2-0 victory over Chicago in which she put in a performance that earned her WPS Player of the Week honors.
Thus, it was only a minor surprise when Chicago recently traded for her, sending the U.S. National Team midfielder Lindsay Tarpley to St. Louis.
“It’s a great opportunity to step in and be their potential starter,” said Loyden, who has the chance to replace Red Stars 2009 starter, Swedish veteran Caroline Jonsson, who will not return this season. “I think it’s going to force me to take on a lot more responsibility and I am looking forward to that. Chicago didn’t do as well last year and going there I hope I can help change that.”
For now, she is just soaking up the experience of her first national team training camp, which just happens to be a three-week marathon, and groups her with Solo, 2008 Olympic Team back-up Nicole Barnhart, and 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup winning GK Alyssa Naeher.
“It’s definitely a long camp, so I have a lot of time to show myself and experience everything,” said Loyden. “I have a lot of learning to do and I’m just excited to be in this kind of training environment with the best players in our league and country. I just want to have a good attitude and learn as much as I can when I’m here.”
And how has it been facing the likes of Abby Wambach, Heather O’Reilly, Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath, Lauren Cheney, Amy Rodriguez, Kelly O’Hara and Casey Nogueira, et al? Note: None of those players went to Villanova.
“The first two days my head was spinning,” said Loyden. “I was never really in those situations in college, I was one of the best players and I just wasn’t facing the toughest shots in training. Here, everyone is so good and it’s just such a different level than anything I’ve ever played at before. I’m still adjusting to the pace of the game and everyone is so much more technical As the camp goes on, it will get easier, but this is my first time really training at the level where everyone is so legit. I’m enjoying it a lot.”