Kate Taylor may be at camp for the first time with the Football Ferns this week as they prepare for two friendlies in Europe, but she’s surrounded by some familiar faces.
The 18-year-old centre-back is one of seven players in coach Jitka Klimková’s 24-man squad who played for Canterbury United Pride in New Zealand’s National Women’s League.
Along with goalkeepers Lily Alfeld and Vic Esson, defenders Meikayla Moore and Ashleigh Ward, midfielder Annalie Longo and forward Gabi Rennie, she flies the flag for what has been the country’s most successful region for the past decade.
Alfeld, Longo, Moore and Ward were all members of the first Pride team to win the NWL in 2013, while Longo was back when they won their sixth title in eight years in 2020, with Rennie and Taylor for company.
* Football Ferns lock down a friendly in Japan during the October international window
* Annalie Longo back in Football Ferns; The Wellington Phoenix duo receive their first call-ups
* The intercontinental playoffs may be over, but NZ Football has big plans for home games
* Football Ferns confirms matches against European opponents
Taylor recalls going to and watching Pride in the early years of their dynasty and is proud to have carried on the team’s legacy, first with the Wellington Phoenix in their first women’s A-League campaign last summer and now with the women’s national team.
She says she was “overwhelmed” when she received the email informing her of her call-up to the squad for this month’s games against Norway [kickoff 3am Sunday NZ time] and Wales [5am Wednesday].
“I was going through the list and when I came up with my name, I was like, what? It was really cool and it felt great.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
“Obviously as a footballer and a woman in New Zealand you grow up watching all these people play.
“There are people like Gabi and Flea [Longo] who I’ve played with before and now it’s my turn to contribute to the team.”
Taylor’s appointment comes after a strong first season with the Phoenix, who played in Australia’s semi-professional national women’s soccer competition for the first time last season.
“The beginning was difficult because we were trying to prove who we were as a team,” she says of their inaugural season, in which they finished bottom on goal difference, albeit with as many wins as the three teams before them.
“We wanted to improve every week and that didn’t bring wins but in a different way.
“It was fun as a defender in the league. I think it was a challenge in the sense that we conceded a few goals, but we had fun.
“We played, which is a good part of a defender, played with the ball and then if we made mistakes then obviously we had to counter that by defending the ball well.
“We definitely made it as a team towards the end. Towards the end it was easier as we developed our roles and knew a little bit more about what we were trying to do and how we could make it easier on ourselves.”
Despite being one of the younger members of the squad, Taylor was named Phoenix vice-captain and while the move came as a surprise at first, she happily learned how best to complement Alfeld, who received the nod as captain.
The Football Farns players were excited to follow the announcement of who would host the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup after an early wake-up call last June. (First published June 2020)
“In the beginning I kind of didn’t want to step on her toes and wasn’t sure what I should do to help, and when I saw what she’s like as a leader – she can be direct but also not – then I did learned little things that I could do,” says Taylor.
“I made cheat sheets for the team to understand a little bit better what we were trying to do for each game – it was different for each team.
“I learned how to use my voice a little differently as she was a goalie and so she wasn’t in every single aspect of our units, so how to support the team by using my voice in a different way – not people inevitably just shouting at them, but being constructive and providing help.
“Things like that were hopefully more beneficial than stepping down and just letting Lily take over.”
Since the end of the women’s A-League season in March, Taylor’s main focus has been preparing for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica in August.
She captained the Junior Football Ferns in their recent friendlies against Australia – two in Canberra in April and two in Auckland earlier this month – scoring a crucial penalty in one of those.
Seven of her Phoenix teammates are also there to make the cut for the World Cup team coached by Phoenix boss Gemma Lewis.
Taylor is yet to live through an age group World Cup, having lined up for the 2020 U17 event only to miss it when it was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Two years earlier, she had been inspired by watching Rennie and several other Pride teammates win a historic bronze medal at the 2018 U17 World Cup in Uruguay.
“I remember they came back for their first practice session and they were obviously just gushing about what had happened and I remember wanting to do the exact same thing.
“Obviously our age group didn’t get into it because of Covid, but we saw that as a bit of motivation and our age group wanted to do what they did and have the opportunity to do better if we could.”
Taylor wasn’t expecting to tour with the older Ferns as part of their preparation for the upcoming U20 campaign, which begins August 11 [NZ time] with a game against Mexico followed by clashes with Germany and Colombia.
After hesitating to call up players for the wider U20 squad earlier this year, Klimková decided the teenager would benefit from the experience.
“After talking to him [under-20] Coaching staff, Gemma and Nat [Lawrence]about Kate and watching her really closely,” says Klimkovā, “we all thought she was actually up for this challenge and it can help her feel more confident and better prepared for the World Cup.”
Now the only question is when Taylor will make her debut, with a number of more established centre-back options in the current squad – Moore, Liz Anton, Claudia Bunge, Katie Bowen and Rebekah Stott – as well as Mackenzie calling up first Barry , her defensive partner from the Phoenix.
Football Ferns – International Window in June
Goalkeeper: Lily Alfeld, Vic Esson, Erin Nayler
Defender: Liz Anton, Mackenzie Barry, Claudia Bunge, Ally Green, Meikayla Moore, Ali Riley, Rebekah Stott, Kate Taylor, Ashleigh Ward
Midfield player: Katie Bowen, Olivia Chance, Daisy Cleverley, Betsy Hassett, Annalie Longo, Malia Steinmetz
Forward: Jacqui Hand, Grace Jale, Gabi Rennie, Emma Rolston, Paige Satchell, Hannah Wilkinson
Games (NZ time)
Sunday, June 26, 3 a.m.: v Norway; Ullevaal Stadium, Oslo
Wednesday, June 29, 5 a.m.: v Wales; Pinatar Arena, Pinatar, Spain