It’s rare that old U.S.-based club teammates all end up turning pro in Europe.
But a trio of standouts from New York/New Jersey recently accomplished that earlier in 2019.
Three former club teammates – Julia Ashley, Phallon Tullis-Joyce and Alana Cook – all joined European teams on the back of standout Division I college careers. The trio were teammates with the Match Fit Academy Colchesters, an ECNL powerhouse that sent players to major DI programs around the country (Match Fit had a fourth player turn pro after the 2018 season, as Maryland goalkeeper Rachel Egyed signed in Israel, though she played for a different team at the club).
With their eligibility now exhausted, all three have begun careers on the continent. Ashley, who signed off her college career at North Carolina as a national running up, joined Linköpings, a team in Sweden. Cook, a four-year starter at Stanford, made waves when she bypassed the NWSL draft and signed with Paris St. Germain. And Tullis-Joyce, an under-the-radar goalkeeper at Miami (FL), joined up with Stade de Reims in the French Second Division.
The jump in level and learning a new style was a big part of Tullis-Joyce’s decision to head abroad.
“Coming from the American background, being put into a European-style of play, especially for who I am as a goalkeeper, it’s been great for my distribution, thought processes, being sharper, being quicker, seeing different kind of shots,” she told topdrawersoccer.com. “They love to pass around, they are very technical. The facilities, coaches, my teammates, they are really great people. I’ve really enjoyed my experience so far.”
Tullis-Joyce has been primarily on the bench as the backup goalkeeper since her move to France, with Stade de Reims closing in on promotion to the first division. At the beginning of March, Tullis-Joyce had the chance to start against the Georgetown women’s team, which was traveling in France for spring break. Located in a small town about 45 minutes away from Paris, Reims has a 10-point lead (as of publication) at the top of Group A in Division 2. A first-place finish automatically clinches a spot in Division 1.
That’s where Cook is trying to break through with PSG. The second-place team in Division 1, the Parisian side is looking to beat out Lyon for the league title. Cook made her professional debut over the weekend, starting and playing the full 90 in a 2-0 win against Dijon. Four games remain in the league campaign, with a massive match against Lyon looming on April 13, which could decide the league title.
Ashley was the last of the three to leave for Europe, arriving in Sweden at the beginning of February. An all-action right back at Carolina, she’s already seen action for Linköping in friendly matches, which is located in a city in southern Sweden. Getting minutes at center back and right back, Ashley continues working towards the league campaign beginning in April.
The chance to grow and play for a team abroad played a big part in the New Jersey native’s decision to turn down Sky Blue FC (where she was drafted in January) and head to Europe.
“A year or two ago if you asked me what I wanted to do, I definitely would’ve said just staying and playing in the NWSL,” Ashley said. “After the College Cup final and as the draft got closer, I connected with A&V Sports, I was exposed to the idea of going abroad. As I learned more about it, specifically Sweden and it being a World Cup year. For me, my ultimate goal is to play on the full national team. I think I still have learning to do, and a little bit of a ways to go. I talked to some of my mentors, Heather O’Reilly gave me some good advice and she was like ‘honestly Julia I think we both know right now this World Cup roster, they’re cutting down, probably not going to bring new people in.’ So I think it’s a great year for me to be able to go abroad, and experience what I want to develop personally.”
Ashley and Tullis-Joyce matched up against one another during their four years in the ACC. In her second-to-last game in college against UNC, Tullis-Joyce set a Miami (FL) record by making 17 saves, most in a single game for a Hurricane ‘keeper.
Specifically pursuing opportunities in France was a goal for Tullis-Joye. A physical, athletic goalkeeper, she has the size and shot-stopping ability that coaches look for in a netminder. Also harboring dreams of suiting up for the U.S. women’s national team one day, she knew that a move abroad would refine her game and push her in ways she wasn’t before.
“That was definitely part of my thought process,” she said “I had been looking at France several months before signing with the agency because I knew if I wanted to grow as a goalkeeper, that was a position I needed to be put in. I needed to be forced to have these sharp decisions, quick passes, I needed to be put in an environment that made me better, and I definitely found it.”
All three ended up represented by A&V Sports, which helped facilitate their respective moves to Europe. Ashley echoed Tullis-Joyce’s sentiments about experiencing a new culture and a different playing style.
“I want to develop personally is more of a technically platform and learning more about the game,” she said. “I think my stronger attributes are my athleticism for sure and I do consider myself a technical player, but to be more exposed to the Swedish soccer culture, which is definitely different from the way we played at North Carolina [is a great opportunity].”
Prior to turning pro, and heading off to college, the former teammates once took the field together as part of Match Fit Academy's back line: Cook at center back, Ashley at right back, where she moved at some point in high school, and Tullis-Joyce in goal. They were a powerhouse at that point, one of the top teams in the ECNL with plenty of talent on its roster.
Ashley is excited for her old club teammates, and is excited to see them grow in France.
“Both soccer opportunities for them are amazing, but Alana going to PSG is so, so cool,” she said. “I’m so excited for Phallon too – I think she’s one of the best goalkeepers I’ve had the chance to play with and against. Both of them are such great players and I got the opportunity to play against both of them in my college career… I’m super excited for both of them, and they are such great people as well. It will be really cool for all of us to be over there chasing our dreams.”