Sky Blue FC Spotlight: The Professional Path of Taylor Lytle
Photo by Howard C. Smith, ISI Photos.
Written by Lauren Murray, Sky Blue FC Contributing Writer
Underway in its fifth season, the success and excitement of the National Women’s Soccer League is slowly covering up the relevant misfortune that occurred just months before its inception. Before the NWSL existed was Women’s Professional Soccer, which folded in May 2012 and created a future of uncertainty and lost hope.
After three seasons, the WPS was suspended roughly two weeks following the 2012 WPS College Draft and officially folded five months later. Veterans and rookies were forced to take their professional careers elsewhere. For others, like Taylor Lytle, her dream of playing professional soccer would be put on hold indefinitely.
Lytle declared her eligibility for the 2012 WPS College Draft following her four seasons at Texas Tech University. As a Red Raider, Lytle tallied 14 goals and still holds a program record in career assists with 27. She waited to hear her name be one of the 23 called in the draft. Unfortunately, her first shot at professional women’s soccer was shut down, as she went undrafted.
She received a bit of luck a few weeks after the draft when Jim Gabarra, Sky Blue FC’s head coach at the time, reached out to Lytle’s college coach to extend an offer to have her join in the team’s preseason trip to Japan to play in two exhibition games.
However, it was already rumored that WPS had folded. Although it was not publicly announced until May, the player pool who travelled with Sky Blue FC in March 2012 knew they had nothing to go back to when they returned from Japan. At the time, Lytle said despite the league folding, those who traveled to Japan thought to just take advantage of the current opportunity at hand and hope for the best afterwards.
“We all knew there wasn’t anything to come back to, but there was still hope,” she said. “I don’t think anyone ever thought that there’s not going to be another league. I think we all realized that we needed to keep playing and we needed to keep training because eventually there was going to be a league.”
But the chance to continue playing elsewhere was a challenge on its own, Lytle said.
“I think a lot of the girls were very concerned because a lot of us had graduated college early, in December, specifically so we could play in the WPS league,” she said. “A lot of us were like, ‘Wow. What do we do now?’ It was a rush for people to either go overseas, or play in the W-League or any other opportunities that popped up randomly.”
Lytle said she remembers how hard it was to deal with the fear that playing professional soccer may be an impossible task.
“I can remember talking to my parents and just being like, ‘What do I do?’” she said. “For such a long time, that had been my dream. To have uncertainty about it was scary.”
Lytle knew one way or another she needed to play soccer in hopes to someday play professionally. In April 2012, she joined the Pali Blues in the W-League to play semi-professional soccer. At the time, the W-League was considered one of the highest levels of competition of women’s soccer. Many women, like Lytle, made the move to the W-League.
In November 2012, almost four months following the conclusion of the 2012 W-League season, it was announced that there would be a new women’s professional soccer league in the United States. Later on it would be named the National Women’s Soccer League.
With the formation of the NWSL, Lytle was given another chance to be a professional athlete. She was unable to participate in the 2013 NWSL College Draft because she had already graduated a year prior. Instead, Gabarra contacted her following that draft to inform Lytle that he wanted to sign her as a discovery player.
On March 11, 2013, Lytle was officially signed as a discovery player, and her dream of playing professional soccer has been attained. Since then, she is one of three players, alongside Kelley O’Hara and Christie Pearce, to be on the Sky Blue FC roster for all five of its seasons in the NWSL. Although all three players have been with the club since the start of the NWSL, Lytle is the longest tenured Sky Blue FC player due to her stint with the team on its preseason trip to Japan in 2012. She also is the only non-allocated player to be a part of Sky Blue FC since the club’s first season in the NWSL.
Of the 20 women currently rostered for Sky Blue FC, Lytle, O’Hara, Pearce and Tasha Kai make up its most veteran leadership. Lytle has seen significant time on the field in each of her first four seasons in the NWSL, making 46 starts in 61 appearances. This season, she has appeared in 14 of Sky Blue FC’s 17 games and started in 13.
She said it’s a privilege to still be playing professional soccer and to have been a consistent player on the field.
“I think that every year I like to come in and know that there is competition of the college kids coming in and it’s like ‘you still have to prove yourself yearly,’ which I think is what makes you a better player,” Lytle said. “I think that the older I am getting, the better I am getting. I embrace the fact that I am an older player in the league and still playing and have quality time. It’s an honor to still play in this league.”
About the Author: Lauren Murray is a senior at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, pursuing two bachelor’s degrees in journalism and sport studies. She previously worked as the Assistant Sports Editor of her college’s award-winning newspaper, The Ithacan. As editor, she was awarded First Place for Sports Coverage and Third Place for News Story by the New York Press Association.