Football can be such a rewarding passion and fulfilment as a professional player with the opportunity to travel, win silverware, and become a superstar. The hard yards and endless commitment can produce a career filled with highs.
That’s the part that everyone focuses on. There comes a time when every athlete is pushed to their limits and comes to grips with the heartache attached.
Former Liberty A-League forward Rylee Baisden knows all too well about encountering a rollercoaster of emotions ever since she found a love for the game.
Before deciding to move to Australia and delve into a new culture, Baisden lived her early years soaking up the sunshine of California in the United States.
Starting her collegiate journey with the Pepperdine Waves at her college, Baisden spoke to The Inner Sanctum about the importance of the program that led to invaluable growth.
“Playing in college was a huge part of my overall development and it laid the foundations for my career to take off,” Baisden told The Inner Sanctum.
“How it works is you play on a club team which is essentially a travel club team that allows for tournament entries. From those games, college coaches come out to scout the best talents.
“I was recruited rather late because I had played football and softball competitively for my entire high school years, so in my junior year of high school, I was being recruited for university and as soon as I walked onto Pepperdine University campus, I was captured by the beautiful environment.
“I was there for an extra season (five years) as I suffered an injury in my first year, meaning I had a gap year tact on toward the end.
“Those years helped me grow a lot as a player and as an individual because I learnt how to juggle being a student and an athlete and that set me up well for being a professional athlete as time management is critical.”
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Gaining the right level of experience and maturity would allow the 29-year-old to set off on an adventure to chase her dream of becoming a professional footballer. Stints with Skövde KIK in Sweden and Croix De Savoie in France ticked off Europe on Baisden’s bucket list shortly after leaving Pepperdine.
From the bright sun of California to the equally fine weather of Brisbane, Baisden signed for Moreton Bay United in the Queensland National Premier League (NPL) where she netted 23 goals in 33 appearances and put her name up in lights. To top it off, she took out the NPLW Player of the Year and Golden Boot Awards.
Baisden’s performances didn’t go unnoticed as Brisbane Roar reached out for her services in 2019, as the American explained her decision to move to Australia’s top-tier competition.
“After the NPL I had always wanted to play at the highest level which was a similar process to college where they select the best prospects from the lower division,” she said.
“I got a chance to join Brisbane Roar’s training sessions and they offered me a contract. That was ideal because my partner is from Brisbane and we were very settled; it’s become a home away from home.
“I have a lot of fond memories of the club and I’ll always be grateful for the chance to play in Australia’s top league for the first time.”
After one season at the Roar, the Covid pandemic forced Baisden to fly back to the States where she would end up in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) representing North Carolina Courage.
As two seasons flew past and the world slowly regained a sense of normality, Western Australia welcomed Baisden with open arms for the 2022/2023 campaign.
What were the incentives that enticed the centre-forward to join Perth Glory out west?
“I always wanted to come back to Australia after I left Brisbane, but Covid kept me in America for almost three seasons in the NWSL.
“In an ideal world, I would’ve loved to have returned to Brisbane, but instead an opportunity arose to play for Perth and I felt it was the right fit for me surrounded by supportive players, staff, and the city is incredible.
“Although I was going into the unknown, that didn’t stop me from having an open mind and looking back I enjoyed every second of my time there.”
Life at the Glory could not have started any better for Biasden who scored five goals in her first seven games in a purple shirt as the confidence started to brew.
Again, all of the soaring highs come with the package of the risk of succumbing to the cruellest of lows.
During the second half at AAMI Park against Melbourne Victory back in January, Baisden suffered a devastating anterior crucial ligament (ACL) injury which was enough to end her season and hasn’t featured competitively since.
Opening up on the toughest period of her career, the American international shared what was going through her mind and the importance of the unconditional support she received.
“Such a big injury like that is just a bummer and it would be detrimental to anyone’s career,” she explained.
“I know it’s cliché but everything happens for a reason and even though I was finding my groove on the field, I’ve really grown in the past year having to step away from football and go through the process of recovery.
“No one prepares you for the injury; I think physicality its not much of a worry coming back from injury, but preparing for the mental side is the real obstacle with all of the struggles attached to it.
“Perth was amazing for me because they looked after me such as letting me choose where to go for my surgery; I have nothing but good things to say about them and I have high praise for the organisation.”
Despite the enhancement in scientific technology and research over the years, an ACL injury can keep athletes on the sideline for around 12 months to properly bounce back.
After 10 months since being stretchered off the pitch, Baisden’s road to recovery is treading in the right direction.
“At the beginning of recovery, the hardest part was learning to do all of the basic things again on top of the pain I was suffering from after surgery. Any movement such as sitting upright or getting in and out of my car for appointments was brutal on my body.
“Once I could walk around and start to complete regular tasks it became much easier, so hitting those small milestones was massive for me and I tried to stay in the moment.
“Now I feel as though I’m on the right track and everything is progressing smoothly.”
Unfortunately, ACL injuries and women’s football have gone hand in hand, as four players from the Liberty A-Leagues have already experienced Baisden’s agony this season.
Does this mean there is a deeper issue concerning female athletes and knee injuries, or is it a matter of terrible misfortune?
“I think that’s the burning question at the moment that seems to be grabbing more attention to highlight the reasoning behind it,” Baisden said.
“Even during the recent World Cup, there was a bunch of big-name players who missed out due to this epidemic of ACL injuries.
“It’s just a weird occurrence in our sport and I think women are susceptible purely because of our body type. We’re trying to replicate the men’s game and the schedule and it’s getting there, but we need more resources and more funding to make it feasible.
“There are so many factors including load management, the volume of training, amount of minutes in the legs, and the travel which makes it challenging from a sports science perspective to manage everyone in the group.
“In Australia specifically it’s very difficult because it’s not an all-year-round season, so for many girls who need to pay to live, they often play in another league and their body never gets a rest.”
Winning four out of the last nine World Cups since the tournament commenced in 1991, it’s no secret that America has dominated the football landscape, albeit a slow change of the guard.
The NWSL has played a major role in that success over the course of history, and having experienced both cultures in the States and down under, Baisden made comparisons between the two respective leagues.
“Now that I know what I want and what I’ve experienced, I think I’ve come back to finding joy within the game again which Australia and America have been a big part of,” she said.
“The NWSL is a very competitive league; it always has been and it always will be. I think any team on any given day can win which shows that the table is very tight. That’s the main difference between the NWSL and the A-Leagues due to the gap being somewhat larger from top to bottom in Australia.
“That aspect just comes with the growth of the game and I think the World Cup in Australia has done amazing things which will lead to more pathways for young girls to start playing football to develop more opportunities.
“Overall they’re both competitive leagues and there’s definitely some incredibly talented players in both competitions, but the main difference is that the season is longer in the NWSL.”
As a result of being forced to recover from her ACL injury for the rest of 2023, Perth Glory decided not to extend Baisden’s contract for the current campaign.
Now living in Brisbane, Baisden has the fire in her belly to lace up the boots and play professional football again.
“I’ve already felt as though I had some unfinished business when I returned to the A-Leagues last season, but now that my season was cut short, I definitely have some unfinished business to take care of.
“Whether that’s in Australia, back in the States, or somewhere overseas I want to play again and experience the feeling and adrenaline of running around on the pitch.
“I’m at a stage where I’m trusting when my body is going to be ready. I think most people would be looking at a 10-12 month timeline for when they come back to play and I’m aiming for that, but I know when I’ll be ready and I won’t be in a rush.
“My goal for the next couple of months is to enjoy the process of getting my body right and ensuring my knee is strong enough to return to action.”
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