Anna Patten on the US Soccer System, her England experiences, and the future
Photo by Steve Bardens-FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

One of a number of future stars who could could cement their position in the WSL and Lionesses setups over the next couple of years is Anna Patten. Currently studying at the University of South Carolina, which she joined from Florida State University in the summer, the club that she joined back in 2016 after departing the WSL with spring series experience, which ultimately culminated in an NCAA-winning campaign in 2018.

College 'soccer'

Playing for the USC's 'Gamecocks' women's soccer team, Patten left England three-and-a-half years ago to make the trip across the pond as many choose to do. She admitted that the opportunities for academic study at the same time as football vastly outweighed what could be provided back home:

"I think, a big thing for a lot of us English players is the academics because if for example if I was to stay at Arsenal, it would have been really hard for me to obviously balance training with a pro team and then go to lectures because they are not together.

"Clubs are over here in so many ways around like the soccer schedule, and you you have academic advisors who are helping you make sure you schedule classes that won't conflict and a lot of professors understand that you're a student athlete and understand you will miss classes and they rely on us to make up the work"

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The 20-year-old is not alone in the set of players from the UK that choose to move abroad, even at USC she is joined by fellow England teammate Grace Fisk. Then, looking to a wider field there are a number who participate in the college system, and players such as Rachel Daly have then gone on to apply their trade in the NWSL. At the time of Patten's first callup to the England squad, she was joined by young goalkeeper Sandy McIver, who has been at Clemson Tigers since 2016.

"In England, unfortunately, especially at the time where there was a lot of us girls leaving, there wasn't a good enough option for us to be able to play for a professional team and get the high quality coaching and facilities that you get with that and then also be able to get a degree

"Obviously, that's the beauty of coming over here. You have the coaching, you have the great training facilities."

The developmental pathway for young talent is something that has not been clear in the WSL and many are looking to change. However, with the advent of a fully professional league in 2018, access to top level academy facilities is greater than ever before, and in the future the success of some of the top men's clubs in bringing through the next generation could be replicated by retrospective men's sides.

Under 20 World Cup

To many, the Under 20 World Cup, which was hosted in France in 2018, was the first time that people would have gained exposure to England's next generation of talent. Under the stewardship of Mo Marley, they reached the semi-finals of the competition, although they lost to eventual winners Japan, a strong set of penalties saw them depart with a bronze medal. 

"The World Cup was an amazing experience." said Patten "I think that the team we had we were unhappy with how we performed the year before in the Under 19 UEFA tournament, so we really were going to the World Cup with like a point to prove that we were the team that  people hyped up and you know, we just kind of got better and better with every game we played, and it was just so amazing.

"Obviously we wanted to be in that final and we wanted to try and be competing for the World Cup but to end up coming away with a bronze medal - the best a Female Under 20's team has ever done at that world stage. It was really amazing - I loved it."

Looking back after less than two years, the squad that featured in France is filled with players who now feature week-in-week-out for some of the top sides in England, with Ellie Roebuck, Georgia Stanway and Lauren Hemp all members alongside many others.

The senior call-up and what the future may entail

In August of this year, Patten was called up by Phil Neville to be a part of the lionesses' senior setup for their friendlies against Belgium and Norway alongside Bethany England, Aoife Mannion, and Sandy MacIver. She spoke to VAVEL UK about how it felt to be a part of the senior side:

"That was crazy. I was actually on an away trip with the USC team over here and I remember just stepping out of my room to get the call from Phil and I was just in the corridor and I  just really wasn't expecting it - it was such an amazing feeling and I felt so honored to get that call up. Obviously my experience was amazing, but it was definitely a big step.

"I don't think anyone can actually prepare you for the difference between the youth level and the senior team. People always say it's going to be a step up, but you don't really know until training with the quality that's in that Lionesses team. But I loved every second of it and I really learnt from it and it has made me hungrier than ever to try and prove myself and get selected more to try and compete"

It is no secret that the quality of the women's football leagues in the UK has had a stark improvement in the past couple of years, and that is only further highlighted by big name signings such as that of Sam Kerr's recent move to Chelsea. Patten spoke about this, and her plans for what she will do after her studies are concluded:

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"I think the WSL is definitely improving so much and with those big names getting signed and everything - it just shows how top quality players are now seeing how good the league is and how much it's progressing. Yeah, it's really exciting for the future and I'm looking forward to coming back

"The plan is to come back to England and play in the WSL, I think part of it is that I get to show and get looked at more because obviously I'm in England , I want to come home and play in the league, which like you say, it's just getting more and more competitive."