There are two common pathways for young English footballers hoping to reach the top - either stay in England and progress through the domestic ranks, or venture across the Atlantic to participate in the United States’ collegiate system.
Just as other young Lionesses have done, Everton goalkeeper Sandy MacIver opted for the latter, returning to England to join the Toffees in January 2020 when she had graduated from Clemson University, an opportunity which she will never regret taking.
“I think going away to America, for me, was a life-changing experience,” she said. “It helped me mature, not only as a goalkeeper but as a person, being away so far from home for the first time.
“I know in the past that the view on America has been different than it is for the young players playing in the WSL now, but for me, I was fortunate that the league I was playing in was so competitive.
“Some of the girls that have come back, who I was playing against in the last series, such as Alessia Russo and Lotte-Wubben-Moy, are at top teams now.
“The fact that I was able to play in such a high quality league and also grow as a person is something I’m really grateful for, and it’s an opportunity that I’ll never regret taking.”
MacIver moved to Clemson in 2016 and some may wonder if being based away from England might have kept her out of the loop of the senior Lionesses team, as she looks to earn her first cap against Northern Ireland on February 23.
Moving to the States is, however, a decision which MacIver regards as the right one for herself, as she highlights the importance of getting an education while developing as a footballer.
“I think once I made my decision, I knew it was the right one,” MacIver added. “For me, my education was just as important, because I know at some point I am going to have to stop playing football.
“Whatever happened in those three-and-a-half, four years in America, I was always going to stick by my decision, and I just wanted to put myself in a place that, coming back three, four years later, I was a better goalkeeper and a better person than when I left England at 18.”
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) February 18, 2021
MacIver is the oldest of the three goalkeepers who have been selected for the Lionesses’ latest camp, with Ellie Roebuck, 21, and Hannah Hampton, 20, also called up.
Ordinarily, a more experienced player would also have been selected but interim coach Hege Riise has opted for a smaller squad in preparation for this summer’s Olympic Games.
MacIver highlighted the importance of being able to train with the older players in previous camps, stating that they were crucial to helping her start her journey.
“It's been huge,” she said. “I remember my first camp, about two years ago I was at the SheBelieves Cup as a training player, and being able to train every day with the likes of KB [Karen Bardsley] and Carly [Telford], you just learn so much.
“They in themselves are such supportive people that they are willing to help you, and to be able to fire questions away to them was really beneficial in starting my journey in the England squad.”
The three youngsters represent England’s future, a group of players who have all come through to the senior team after regular experience with the youth squads. MacIver said that the friendships they have built over the years make working together much easier.
“It’s a really good group,” said MacIver. “I’ve worked with Ellie for a number of years in the youth ranks and I am just starting to work with Hannah now. The fact we all get on so well off the pitch really helps the training sessions and how we work on the pitch.
“It just works really well. I think we’re lucky in the fact that we do get on so well, so there’s no animosity on the pitch and it’s a really exciting group to be a part of.”
The Lionesses lock horns with Northern Ireland at St George’s Park in the first meeting between the two countries since 2008. They are a team who will be full of positivity after winning their last four Euro 2022 qualifying matches to earn a spot in the two-legged play-offs for next year’s competition.
“I think it’ll be a really exciting game,” MacIver said. “I was speaking about it with Simone [Magill] back at Everton. You can really tell that that squad is full of spirit.
“For them to get to a European play-offs is really exciting. So I think, coming into the game on Tuesday, it’s going to be a really tough and challenging game for both teams.”