English defender Amy Turner seeks new NWSL challenge with Orlando Pride

English defender Amy Turner seeks new NWSL challenge with Orlando Pride
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Orlando Pride defender Amy Turner has been waiting for the right moment to make a jump to the NWSL.

Outside of a year of college at Hofstra University, Turner carved out her entire career in England.

But this season, Turner decided that 2021 is the right time and Orlando is the right place for a new type of challenge.

“It’s always been sort of on my radar,” Turner said. “The NWSL is still one of the best leagues in the world. It’s definitely the most competitive. ... It felt like the right time in my career. At this point in time, I’m probably the best player that I’ve been since I’ve been playing professionally, so I felt like I could give it a really good go.”

For Turner, leaving the WSL was a difficult decision. The defender grew up in the league, but she also helped to grow the women’s game in her home country.

Turner was there for the WSL’s inaugural season in 2011. She led Manchester United to promotion to the top flight, then won the league title in 2019. Over the course of her career, women’s soccer exploded in England, becoming a viable dream for young athletes.

“Growing up, there weren’t many female role models in the game growing up in England,” Turner said. “I used to watch a lot of Sheffield games and a lot of England games without knowing really the potential that I could be a professional myself. I couldn’t really see it when I was younger.”

One of the final nudges Turner needed to depart for the NWSL came from two American teammates — Tobin Heath and Christen Press.

The U.S. women’s national team stars signed with Manchester United during the pandemic for the 2020/21 season. Although Heath’s time with the club was cut short by knee and ankle injuries, the pair urged Turner to test herself in the NWSL.

Out of her English teammates, Turner said Heath and Press believed she was best fit to make the transition to NWSL play, which is known for its physicality and attacking ruthlessness.

“They used to say to me that I was probably the most recognizable player on the team for someone that they knew playing in the NWSL with the way I defend and the way I play, which was not something I’d really thought about too much before,” Turner said. “They reassured me that, in their opinion, it was a good decision for me and hopefully a good move in my career.

As European players signed with teams across the league, Turner wasn’t alone in making the leap to the NWSL.

Turner’s fiancee, Welsh midfielder Angharad James, signed with the North Carolina Courage and joined the team at the end of the WSL season.

The couple were together for the first step of Turner’s career — albeit as opponents — when the Courage and the Pride played each other for the defenders’ debut in Orlando last weekend.

New teammate Jade Moore offered another familiar face for Turner. The pair grew up competing against and alongside each other in England, playing briefly together for Notts County before the club folded.

Upon her arrival, Turner said Moore helped her with the little details of adjusting to Orlando — getting set with a car, moving into her apartment, even organizing a celebration for her 30th birthday this weekend.

Although Moore is a longtime friend, Turner said the entire Pride roster has been more welcoming than she expected from previous teams.

“They’ve all really taken me under their wing and that’s something quite unique,” Turner said. “I’ve not been used to that in other teams that I’ve played for in the past.”

Although Turner said she’s finding her footing in Orlando, she left behind one major part of her life in England — her dog Betsy.

The cocker spaniel poodle mix stayed in England with Turner’s sister while she gets acclimated to Orlando, but the defender plans to bring her Stateside at Christmas for the 2022 season.

“I‘m not sure how she’ll do in this heat to be honest, though,” Turner said. “She’s a bit like me; I think there’ll be a shock to the system. She’ll be panting and jumping in the swimming pool. We’ll have to get her shaved down to the skin.”

Coach Marc Skinner said he believes Turner will bring a new level of stability to an already improved Orlando Pride backline.

Turner and Skinner were familiar with each other before the coach took the helm in Orlando. They competed against one another for years in the FA WSL and the defender played with Skinner’s partner, former England national-team player Laura Bassett.

The centerback will diversify the team’s backline options. Despite being one of the top right backs in the league, captain Ali Krieger has spent most of the season at centerback to give the Pride much-needed stability at the position.

Signing Turner provides the option to either move Krieger to outside back or to play with three centerbacks. Skinner also highlighted her ability to distribute the ball through long passes and organize a backline, which he believes will help rookie centerback Phoebe McClernon grow in the position.

“We wanted to get a center half that we could develop, but that also already has the experience Amy possesses,” Skinner said. “It’s part of a building project to finalize how we want our squad to look.”

Turner only logged a handful of minutes in her debut for the Pride on Sunday. But as the defender acclimates further to Orlando, she aims to become a team leader on and off the pitch.

After a pair of losses, the centerback’s presence could be a bolstering force for a Pride team eager to maintain a top spot in the league.

“Hopefully they’ll know me as a player that wears their heart on their sleeve, a selfless player that you know is solid at the back and someone that’s reliable,” Turner said. “I pride myself on doing the basics of defending really well. ... When the games are going at 100 miles an hour, hopefully I can have a calming influence on the team.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at jpoe@orlandosentinel.com.

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