England Women have made their way to USA for the inaugural SheBelieves Cup – and if they require a tour guide they should look no further than striker Jodie Taylor.
Mark Sampson’s side will take on Jill Ellis’s World Cup winners, European champions Germany and France, the top three teams in the FIFA rankings, in a tantalising friendly tournament at the beginning of March.
Lionesses star Taylor plies her trade with Portland Thorns on the west coast of America – and she has spent eight of the last 12 years living across the pond. Only one of those was spent in England, in 2012, when she helped Birmingham City win The FA Women’s Cup.
Taylor first moved to USA from her home in Liverpool when she was 18 to complete two separate degrees, in psychology and sociology, at Oregon State University.
And she said her early days in the States markedly improved her as a player.
Taylor explained: “The people are so friendly, encouraging and positive about women’s football.
“I picked up on that in freshman year. If someone made a bad pass there was never any raised voices. People would just say “don’t worry”.
“I found that strange at first but it made me a more confident player; the fact that I could try stuff and almost be allowed to make mistakes.”
Taylor, 29, left England before the advent of the semi-professional FA Women’s Super League, when clubs were only training twice a week.
Taylor wanted to play full-time and her added desire to acquire a scholarship influenced her to take the plunge.
And alongside their encouraging attitude, American players’ approach towards training had a profound effect.
Taylor said: “The mentality over here is phenomenal and that’s why I believe they are world champions.
“I don’t really think the players over here are that much better than English players technically or tactically. There are some really good footballers in England. But for me, the one thing that sets them apart, as a nation, is their mentality.
“Even at club level over here, a training session is just as intense as it would be at international level. Even though some players might know they will never have a chance of playing for the national team they will still give it everything in training.
“It’s contagious and it has had a massive impact on my game.
“Having spoken to the girls I know things are more like that in England now which is great. I’m sure we’ll see more signs of it in the years to come.”
Women’s football is huge in America, much bigger than the men’s game.
In January, the US men’s team played Iceland in California, a game which attracted just 8,000 fans. Meanwhile, Ellis’s World Cup heroes played out a 5-0 win over Ireland in the same state a week earlier in front of over 23,000.
“That’s another amazing thing about being over here – people really respect women’s football,” said Taylor, who has scored five goals in 15 international appearances since making her debut against Sweden in August 2014.
“I know things are changing in England now, but even when I was at college I’d tell someone I play football and they’d think that was awesome.
“The support we get at Portland is amazing and I’m sure we’ll see that at the tournament, especially at all the US games.”
Taylor continued: “Sport is massive over here.
“A lot of kids play sport because their parents get them into it at an early age with a view to getting a scholarship when they are older. The whole college set-up is pretty cool.”
Taylor’s England team-mates will open their SheBelieves Cup campaign against USA on Friday 4 March (12.45am GMT).
They will then take on Germany in Nashville on Sunday 6 March (10.45pm GMT) and finally France in Boca Raton, Florida, on Wednesday 9 March (10pm GMT).
Having the England team come to her, rather than having to travel halfway around the world to meet up with the rest of the squad is something of a novelty for Taylor.
But she’s used to things being a bit different.
Taylor said: “I remember when I first came to America. I had the biggest culture shock going to a college town. If I’d have realised that before I went it probably would have put me off going.
“That was the biggest challenge I’ve ever had. You’re so used to being at home. I hadn’t lived anywhere else and all my family were in Liverpool.
“I’m so glad I did go though. The town is just about the uni and the sports team so I got the ultimate college experience.”
She added: “I always said I would 100 per cent stay in America when my career is over but never say never.
“I can’t rule out a return to England but I can’t really see myself living in Europe long-term.
“The lifestyle over here is great, the cost of living is decent, there’s a good quality of life and if I stay within football there will be so many opportunities for me.”