Newcastle Jets’ American star Arin Gilliland recently had a chat with The Football Sack about her luck in joining the Jets, the state of women’s football in Australia and the United States as well as her future on and off the pitch.

The American was understandably still on a high the day after helping the Jets reach the finals for the first time in nine seasons thanks to a 5-1 demolition of Canberra United.

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“We are absolutely buzzing off of it right now, I don’t think think the girls have calmed down yet,” she said.

“We’ve already planned a dinner to go out and celebrate tonight.”

The American’s journey to Newcastle is a fascinating one and involves a stroke of luck. Gilliland had left it too late to contact coaches in Australia at the beginning of the 2016/17 season and was left in limbo without a W-League club after finishing the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season with her parent club Chicago Red Stars.

The Jets squad was full until news of a torn anterior cruciate ligament to American import Caprice Dydasco gifted the opportunity for an overseas player to take her spot before the start of the season.

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“At the time I didn’t know anything about the league. I didn’t know anything at all,” said Gilliland.  

“All I knew was that a bunch of girls from the States went and played and really enjoyed themselves.

“So I wrote to the coach, Craig Deans saying: ‘Hey, I’ve heard what happened to Caprice and didn’t know if the spot had already been filled but I’d love to come over and play for you guys’.

“He wrote back to me and literally three days later I was on a flight out here. It was the quickest turnaround but it was the best experience.

“He’s honestly one of the best coaches I’ve ever had and we’ve gotten to know each other really well which has made me feel really at ease playing in the W-League.”

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Deans has afforded Gilliland the freedom to deploy her in a number of different positions including wing-back which she plays for Chicago, central midfield and also winger where she played before joining the Red Stars and now more consistently plays for the Jets.

“I love nothing more than a full field transition and being at winger allows me to join in on that. I also love one-on-ones and I get to do that all day as well,” Gilliland said.

“You get to be creative but you still get back and defend as well so it’s the best of both worlds for me.”

Gilliland has not only been able to experience the differences between the United States and Australia on the pitch but is also well placed to see how football has developed in the two countries off the pitch after coming through the U.S.’s high-school and college sport system.

From the age of 16 to 18 the Kentucky native played for Ohio Elite before returning for college closer to home at the University of Kentucky because of her mother’s diagnosis with cancer.

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After four years of college football with Kentucky Wildcats and a number of call ups to the United States youth national teams, Gilliland was drafted into the NWSL in 2014 to play for the Red Stars .

Having risen through the ranks of the U.S. footballing set-up it is interesting the take Gilliland has on the development of women’s football in Australia.

“I would almost say Australia and the W-League has caught up to the U.S. and maybe even surpassed us,” she said.

“The league set up is really changing the way everyone thinks about women and men playing football. Everything we’ve done, we do with the Jets men. Almost everything they’ve got, we have had as well.

“I can speak from experience because in Chicago that’s not the case. It revolves mainly around the guys and we come second.

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“The Jets have made it known that the women’s team is going to be treated equally and I think that’s amazing for the sport and us as women.

“It’s great to see the guys buy into that and say that the women deserve just as much as they are getting and the Jets guys have told us that firsthand.”

The success of the US women’s national team permeates the idea that women’s football in the country is far superior than Australia’s W-League however Gilliland doesn’t see it that way.

“You see our women’s national team but that is the U.S. Soccer Federation. It doesn’t play so much into the NWSL. The players who make up the whole backbone of the league are not getting what the national team girls are getting as far as assistance,” she said.

“When I come to Australia I see the W-League girls are getting basically just as much as the Matildas. I can’t fully say that’s the same as in the States.”

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For now Gilliland still has a lot to look forward on the pitch for the Jets before heading back to Chicago as well as a personal milestone ahead of her this year that may decide if she’s able to come back to Newcastle next season.

“My future is a little unsure at the moment because I just got engaged so I have a wedding in October to plan,” she said.

“Coming back to Newcastle is 100% an option but now I have to account for more than just myself so I’m not sure exactly what will happen.

“I have a few ideas but also that depends on how this next season with the Red Stars goes.

“I would love nothing more than to come back to the Jets.”

 

Featured image photo credit to Sproule Sports Focus

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Living and studying in Newcastle. Pretty obsessed with football. Newcastle Jets and Chelsea FC fan