Harrogate star Rachel Daly says England Women have thrown down World Cup marker

Ready to take on the world: Rachel Daly in debut action for England against Serbia in the UEFA Womens European Championship qualifiers
Ready to take on the world: Rachel Daly in debut action for England against Serbia in the UEFA Womens European Championship qualifiers
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“It was huge, we have put our name out there.”

Rachel Daly knew more than most the importance of England’s 1-0 win over world champions the United States earlier this month.

England's Rachel Daly (facing) celebrates with Isobel Christiansen after scoringon her England debut

England's Rachel Daly (facing) celebrates with Isobel Christiansen after scoringon her England debut

The Harrogate footballer has made a stellar name for herself on the other side of the pond since becoming the first English woman to be drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League in January, 2015.

A string of star performances for US franchise Houston Dash alerted the attention of England coach Mark Sampson and the 25-year-old has since become a regular in the national set-up.

She now features in an England team that has developed into one of the elite sides in the world.

Sampson’s side missed out on a World Cup final place in 2015 after conceding a gut-wrenching 90th-minute own goal in the semi-finals against Japan – eventually finishing third after a 1-0 win over Germany.

It makes a statement and tells the world that we are the England team that we have been working so hard to get to. Looking ahead to the World Cup, I think we’re in the best possible position right now to win it.

Rachel Daly

Hopes of improving that finish in France in two years’ time were heightened after Ellen White’s last-gasp winner against the United States in the SheBelievesCup.

Daly, like several other of the England squad, felt the reverberations around the women’s game.

“The performance and final result shows what we can do as a team and under Mark,” Daly told The Yorkshire Post.

“It has put ourselves on the map. We are here to stay. We’re not just here to get close to winning and not pulling it off.

England's Rachel Daly (left) scored in the 7-0 drubbing of Serbia last year

England's Rachel Daly (left) scored in the 7-0 drubbing of Serbia last year

“It makes a statement and tells the world that we are the England team that we have been working so hard to get to.

“Looking ahead to the World Cup, I think we’re in the best possible position right now to win it.”

By her own admission, the route into Mark Sampson’s national squad has been far from conventional.

The striker, who can also operate as a left-back, moved to the States to study at college in 2011 when she scored a record 50 goals for St John University in New York.

It was at the end of her four-year course that she put her name in the ballot for the annual draft selection – with Houston securing her services as a professional in a landmark moment for English football.

Daly was selected as the sixth pick in the ballot-style process, the first English woman to have graduated out of the US college system into the top US league.

Ironically, the second English woman soon followed, and it was fellow Harrogate footballer Leah Galton, who joined Sky Blue FC.

Galton, 22, had also been impressing in the college system in New York, breaking goal-scoring records at Hofstra University as her side won their area championships in the Coloniel Athletics Association (CAA).

“It’s a very unique way of getting into the league,” said Daly.

“I would recommend anyone to do it. It’s the best decision I ever made for me and as a player.”

The move overseas eventually paid off in international recognition last year when Daly received her first call-up into the England squad.

Sampson handed her a debut against Serbia in June in which she scored in a 7-0 victory.

Uncertainty remains over what her best position is in the England team and Sampson has experimented with Daly up front and in defence.

Asked which position she would prefer, Daly replied: “I really don’t know. I bring versatility. It’s helpful for me and it’s helpful for Mark as well.

“Any coach I play under it’s helpful for. I’m not going to be picky and say I want to play here or there. I will play wherever suits the team at that time to help the team win.”

Former Lionesses captain Kelly Smith was England’s first professional women’s player to make a transition to the United States.

However, Smith’s stay was riddled with home-sickness and she fought depression after breaking her leg at the New Jersey Wildcats.

Daly, on the other hand, has found life across the Atlantic a happier affair.

“I love America, I absolutely do as a place,” said the striker.

“I would love to stay out there, though I wouldn’t say it’s set in stone. If I needed to come back for whatever reason I wouldn’t be hesitant to do so but I do envisage myself staying here.”

Daly’s footballing journey started on the village fields of Killinghall Nomads, a junior football club in the Harrogate and District League.

At that time, there was little in the way of infrastructure for girls football.

A handful of clubs were in operation and for most promising young players, mixing it with male equivalents was the only way to start.

Daly, however, began as the only girl in a boys set-up before the Nomads started a girls team.

The women’s game has been on an upward curve since the European Championships were held in the country in 2005.

Last year, more than 147,000 women played competitively – a rise of over 1000 per cent since 1993 when records started.

Daly said: “It’s obviously developing day by day and it’s such a good thing to get involved in. It’s also good that local communities now have that selection of women’s clubs. It’s definitely improving.”

Despite the continued exposure of the Women’s Super League in England, Daly sees her long-term future in the National Women’s Soccer League.

Daly added: “It’s a total different game. It’s been a more physical environment than I have ever experienced in England.

“It changed the way I play in terms of aggressiveness and fitness-wise. I was feeling like my career in England was staying at the same level.

“I’ve pushed myself to the next level in the US because that’s the demand they have on you.”