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posted: 10/18/2013 9:31 PM

Cheerio: Goddard, Pitman bring British flair to DePaul

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A couple of chums from England whom I interviewed this week had to come to America -- Lincoln Park specifically -- to find the best soccer in the world.

Bloody crazy, right?

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We associate England, and Europe in general, with "football" madness, and excellence. Manchester United. David Beckham. The Premier League. All brilliant! What more do you need?

For the "football" chaps out there, maybe not much. But what about the dames?

Well, let's just say that women's "football" in England is not so bloody brilliant.

"Soccer in England and the rest of Europe is huge for men. It's like basketball, football and hockey in the U.S. all rolled into one," said native Brit Ashleigh Goddard. "For women, it's growing. But it's not where it should be. It's definitely not at the level it is here."

So Goddard, now a senior midfielder on the DePaul women's soccer team, found a way to get herself to the United States, where college soccer for women is dripping with talent and a professional league called the National Women's Soccer League employs many of the best female soccer players in the world.

"Playing pro soccer has always been my dream," Goddard said. "There are some semipro leagues for women in England. But I knew if I wanted to play against the best players, I would need to go to America and become known there."

Goddard mentioned her grand plan to her club soccer coach in England. Before she knew it, she was enrolling at DePaul, sight unseen. In fact, Goddard had never even been to the United States, period.

And she knew absolutely no one here. Not a single bloke.

But at age 18, she packed her bags anyway, said goodbye to her soccer-crazed family and began her quest to become a professional soccer player. A year later, one of her club teammates from London, Rachel Pitman, did the same thing and the two reunited as teammates (and became roommates) at DePaul.

Goddard and Pitman have helped DePaul run out to a 10-2-2 record this fall, the best start in school history. Last week, Pitman, a defender, was named the Big East defensive player of the week.

"What happened was that my club coach (Emma Hayes) knows Michele O'Brien (an assistant soccer coach at DePaul). She told Michele about me and Michele came out to see me play," Goddard said. "Then, all of a sudden, the opportunity to go to America was offered to me.

"All I knew was that DePaul was an up-and-coming program and I liked that. And I knew this would get me to America and could be the stepping stone I needed to get to the pro league someday."

As determined and driven as Goddard was, there were some nerves and reservations. The fact that she was leaving everything she knew wasn't lost upon her.

"I'm really close with my family and we all love soccer. My sister plays, my brother, even my dad," Goddard said. "We go to all of each other's games. We spend a lot of time together. I knew I was going to miss them.

"And here I was going to a place where all I had to go on was what I saw in the movies. But my family was really supportive. They encouraged me because they knew about my dreams. Going to America was hard, but at the same time it was very easy."

Besides sometimes struggling to get people to understand her accent, Goddard transitioned seamlessly at DePaul. She started 11 of 20 matches as a freshman and was named to the Big East all-rookie team.

"My teammates and coaches were great," Goddard said. "And one of the things I didn't expect was how friendly people are here. In England, people just put their heads down and do their own thing. Here, people say hello and ask you how you're doing."

Goddard reported back to Pitman, who became even more interested in following the same path. When Goddard told O'Brien that Pitman would make a good addition, O'Brien looked into it.

Shortly thereafter, Pitman became a Blue Demon. Like Goddard, Pitman came to DePaul sight unseen.

"I wanted to come to America, too," said Pitman, now a junior. "Some other colleges were interested, but I thought it would be hard not knowing anyone. I knew I wanted to be with Ashleigh, and she said the team at DePaul and the school were great.

"It's worked out really well. I've learned a lot. The soccer here is different. I've learned some new things and it's been fun because it's been such a professional environment, even in college. I knew soccer was big here for women but I didn't know how big."

Speaking of big, Goddard and Pitman shared a huge moment earlier this month. In a 2-0 win over Villanova, the two British buddies each scored a goal, marking the first time they scored a goal in the same game while at DePaul.

"I got the first goal and Rachel was the first one to jump on me," Goddard said. "When she scored, I was going crazy. Everyone was. It was brilliant."

Make that bloody brilliant.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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