When University of Utah graduate Allie Wisner was told that she would not be offered a professional contract by the Orlando Pride, having being involved with their pre-season roster in 2016, there is little chance she could have expected the journey she would end up going on.
The 26-year-old forward was placed in the same position as so many young Americans, who don’t make one of the ten 20 player rosters, with their futures uncertain and their next move unclear.
The fact is, the decision by Orlando not to retain her services wasn’t one that affected her financially, as she was listed as a practice (amateur) player, meaning other than expenses, she wasn’t getting paid.
So how does a practice player support herself financially?
For Wisner, this was no easy task. Tragically, she lost her father when she was at Middle School in Montana, a time of her life that she described as “very difficult for our family,” and revealed that she doesn’t have any contact with her mother.
“You’re doing the same as everyone else, sometimes I maybe felt I did more because you’re playing catch up, but not getting paid for it,” she said.
“Some amateur players are in the fortunate position of having support from parents or family and can just focus on being an amateur, but I don’t have parents, so my brother Jay has been a big support, and I also lived with host families.”
Wisner coached with Orlando City SC to earn some extra money, and she admitted that the club ‘looked after me well’, but there was still the issue of not being a professional, and not being paid for her role on the field.
After it was confirmed that she was not going to be offered a contract, the decision for the 26-year-old now was whether she wanted to carry on playing, and if so, where?
“That is one of the biggest challenges,” she said.
“With a lot of players, they don’t get that contract and they’re done, or they go abroad. But more often than not it’s quite defeating, so people pursue other ventures.
“But the way I got to Utah, and then to where I am now, has been through perseverance and has been about getting better every day. My focus shifted after not getting the contract in Orlando, and I was determined to make something happen.”
Being determined to make something happen, and something actually happening, are two totally different things, as many young football players have discovered when without a club.
Rejection, unanswered emails and calls are all part of the process, which can lead to frustration, and a feeling of deflation.
For Wisner, she knew that moving abroad would probably be her best avenue for gaining minutes and being able to contribute.
“I knew Europe would be a good option, but it was hard because of the timing. A lot of clubs had their rosters sorted and it’s not a simple process – you’re in limbo a lot and there’s a lot of waiting.
“I tried to connect anyway I could. So I went to Germany and bounced around the country, connecting with more people, and said to myself ‘I am not coming home until I have a club sorted’.
“I spoke to a club in England and that didn’t quite fit, then went to Cyprus, but that didn’t work either. It became evident I would have a lot of hoops to jump through.”
At this point, the Utah graduate admitted she felt “pretty low,” and questions started to arise as to whether the next move might happen.
“I think there was a point where I was going to go back to the States and maybe coach and continue training, and just see what happens.
“I had Sweden and Norway at the back of my mind because their season started later, but I did not want to go back to the States and go back to being an amateur, I had been there and done that, and a foreign contract was what I wanted.”
Fortunately for Wisner, she was not one of those players who dropped out of the game due to lack of opportunities, and thanks to the agent she signed with who looked into her situation, she now finds herself in Japan with Osaka based Nadashiko League side, Speranza.
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She explains: “Technically and tactically, I have always been impressed with the Japanese players and was looking for a league where I could develop as a player.
“I had been looking into Japan for a couple of years. After university I went abroad for a little while, then came back to Seattle and went into training camp with them. I spoke to Bev Yanez who had been in Kobbe, and it was interesting to hear from her about it.
“An agent I signed with asked me ‘how about Japan?’ I’d wanted to go for a while, I went out there in January for a week, came back to the US afterwards, and the process continued from there. We agreed terms and a contract that covered things like salary, housing and transportation.”
It wasn’t an easy journey for the former Utah star, however, with a number of clubs visited and potential moves to in Europe falling through.
It hasn’t been the easiest start to life in Japan on the field for Wisner, who is yet to make her debut for the club due to an ongoing injury that has seen her have to sit out the first month and a half of the season.
But learning the language and the culture off the field is also part of the challenge of moving to a country like Japan. As you’d expect, it can be difficult for any player coming from overseas, especially those who have never played abroad before.
“You can’t get by with Google maps or translate because things just don’t translate that well,” said Wisner.
“I really like Osaka, but I’m just north of the city. People are very kind, and the players and club really want to help me succeed.”
Wisner’s settling in process has been helped by two fellow English speaking players from North America – Santa Clara graduate Brittany Ambrose from Canada, and Tessa Andujar, who played for the University of Florida, graduating in 2014.
“We have our own little apartments in the same complex. It’s a huge blessing, Bev Yanez said about it being very lonely because you can’t speak or read the language. To have people to speak English with is definitely helpful.
“But I’m a very independent person and would have come regardless of who was here – I knew this was going to be a big challenge.
“I had to prepare myself for different parts of it, but there was never question that I wouldn’t come. Anywhere you go, it’s going to get hard, and could get lonely. With women’s football, there are lots of ups and downs, but I was excited for the experience.”
Wisner’s contact runs until October, and then she will reassess her next move. But she confessed that after bouncing around last year trying to find a club, she is looking for an opportunity to settle.
“I have big goals but I am focusing on Japan for now. I’m looking at staying somewhere for a longer period of time, and this club and I seem to be on the same page. It excites me and if I have time to learn the language, I could see myself in Japan for a longer period of time. But I am taking it step by step.”