Nestled on the banks of the Susquehanna River in the southern tier of New York is the village of Endicott. The small town nearly 200 miles northwest of New York City might not be the most famous place in the state, but to Orlando Pride’s Kylie Strom, it’s home.
“There were not a ton of huge soccer opportunities up there,” Strom told AllForXI “but growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a professional soccer player.”
Around the age of 12, Strom started commuting three to four days a week to Syracuse, NY to play for a club team; a trip that would take her and her parents nearly three hours a day. Right after school, Strom would hop in the car with her parents who left work early, and would do her homework in the car on the way home late at night.
“I was so lucky because my parents made so many sacrifices so I could chase my dream. I don’t think I would be where I am today if they hadn’t done that. I feel super fortunate.”
For the 29-year old defender, every late night, every hour in the car, was all building up to her dream of one day playing professional soccer. Her journey was filled with twists and turns, but each part of her story has made her into the person and player she is today.
Undrafted but undeterred
In 2014, Kylie Strom decided to try her luck in the NWSL Draft. The defender out of Boston University didn’t feel confident in her prospects but figured it was worth the risk. “When I wasn’t drafted, it wasn’t a huge shock, but I wasn’t deterred. I still wanted to make it work.”
Following the draft, during the spring semester of her senior year at Boston University, Strom trained for a couple of weeks during preseason with the Houston Dash. When that didn’t work out, Strom decided she wanted to finish out her final year of college before deciding her next step.
Luckily for Strom, she had another NWSL team right in her backyard: the Boston Breakers. “After I graduated, I became a practice player for the Breakers and played on their reserves team,” Strom explained. “So I stayed on the radar.”
It was a fateful trip to Germany to visit her boyfriend that would ultimately get Strom started on her journey to becoming a professional soccer player.
“I brought my cleats with me, I bring them everywhere!”
Her boyfriend, who is also a soccer player, had his manager speak with Strom about an opportunity to try out for FFC Frankfurt.
Strom recalls her try outs being a taxing moment in her life. “I tried out, and although I didn’t make their first team, I did make their second team but I didn’t have a contract, I didn’t have a place to stay, I had nothing figured out but when I got the phone call to go, I went right over!”
Strom, who did not have an agent or any guidance during the process, definitely feels her experience in Germany was educational - both on and off the soccer field. “I was doing this all on my own without knowing any German,” she said. “I was winging it!”
Returning to her old stomping ground
Because of a visa issue, Strom ended up having to leave Germany after one season with the club. After trying her luck at the German consulate back in the United States, she eventually got to the point where she had to find another avenue to pursue her dream of playing professionally.
She soon realized that her experience playing in Germany helped her develop in ways she at first didn’t understand. “Looking back, I first came out of college and into the NWSL preseason, I wasn’t ready for that level,” she said. “Germany worked out perfectly for me to get in good training and see the game differently. I became more confident as a person and a player.”
With this newfound confidence, Strom decided to re-visit her roots and head back to the Boston Breakers for their open tryouts. She was invited back into preseason and stayed on as a practice player in 2016. She did eventually earn a contract but was cut mid-season in 2017.
For Strom, getting cut when she finally felt she was on her way to her next step was a very low point for her. “I was blindsided,” she said. “You question everything - all the sacrifices and hard work - to finally have a contract and have it taken away in an instant was pretty brutal.”
Although it felt awful at the time, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Breakers folded later that year. And although Strom was feeling down and out, she thought back to the dreams she had as a young player growing up in Endicott and was determined to keep going.
A European return
With the help of her agent, Strom would play out her dreams for the next four years in Europe - first for two seasons at Sparta Prague and then for two seasons at Atlético Madrid.
The years in Prague were very important for Strom, who had lost the love of the game after being cut from the Breakers. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence at first,” she explained. “You play a little scared, and you’re not enjoying it as much.”
But a silver lining of her time at Sparta was the pressure was off. After finding herself again in Prague, she felt like she could make an impact on her team. The league itself was not as competitive as the NWSL, but the team was good and training was high quality.
“They pushed me every day,” Strom said. “I found that enjoyment and love for the game again and was able to be successful.”
During her two seasons at Sparta Prague, Strom scored 19 times in 36 appearances. She not only helped the team clinch a first-division title for the team, but was instrumental in winning the Czech Women’s Cup. Strom was named MVP of the Cup final in her first season. In her second year with Sparta Prague, she again helped the team win both trophies.
After a successful two seasons in Prague, Strom was contacted by Atlético, an opportunity that she could never have even imagined. “My agent called me and said, ‘you’re never going to believe this!’” Strom recounted. “It was a no-brainer. Never in a million years would I have thought that it would happen.”
She joined Atléti in August 2019 and made 29 appearances across two seasons for the club. During that time, she scored a pair of goals, including one during a 2019 UEFA Women’s Champions League match. Strom relished her chance to play with world-class players in a positive training environment, which really gave her the opportunity to raise her game to the next level.
So when the Orlando Pride came into the picture in 2021, Strom had to take a beat.
“I was nervous about coming back,” Strom said about returning to the NWSL, particularly because of her experience with the Boston Breakers. “It was a tough decision to leave Madrid but at the end of the day, it’s always enticing to be closer to home.”
Although she was grateful for her time in Spain, Strom couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join an organization like Orlando. She was impressed with their roster, their facilities, and their commitment to the game. Strom finished up the season with Atlético Madrid, said goodbye to Europe, and headed back stateside to join the Pride in July 2021.
Playing with Pride
Transitioning into a new team is difficult in any circumstances, but joining a team midway through a season has its own unique challenges. “It’s tough to come into a new team in a new country with a new style in the middle of the season,” Strom explained. “It took me some time to adjust.”
2021 started off as a strong season for the Orlando Pride, who at one point in the summer found themselves at the top of the NWSL table. Inconsistency on the pitch in the back half of the campaign however, caused the team to slip down, ultimately coming in 8th out of 10 teams, a result that Strom said was very disappointing to the group.
During the off-season, the club saw the departures of big names, such as Alex Morgan to San Diego Wave FC, and Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger to NJ/NY Gotham FC.
“Losing those world-class players wasn’t easy. It was a big blow to the team,” Strom explained. “At the same time though, I think we are all really excited for what’s ahead.”
She described the team as being in a bit of a rebuilding phase with some new faces added to the mix. “It’s a completely clean slate, and there’s not as much pressure,” Strom explained. “We really have nothing to lose, and we’re just excited to see what’s ahead.”
With preseason underway, Strom sees a team that is taking last year’s disappointing result and turning it into motivation to bring up the standards. According to Strom, everyone is excited to be back and the energy is high. The players are ready to put in the hard work and have it pay off, hopefully for a playoff spot this year. And she hopes she can be an important part of that success.
“I want to help the team in any way I can,” the defender explained. “I bring some experience from my different teams and different styles, and I hope we can all bring a little bit of ourselves and combine it into something we can all be proud of.”
Strom joined the NWSL at a pivotal time when the league and the NWSL Players Association were in the final months of negotiating their first-ever collective bargaining agreement. The CBA was finally approved on January 31st. For Strom, having this agreement in place makes a huge difference for the players who were fighting for so much, but can now focus more on giving their best performances on the field.
As for the Pride, the team is a bit of an unknown this season. For Strom, this puts the team in an exciting position to make a fresh mark on the league, and she’s grateful to be a part of it. “People aren’t really going to know what to expect from us this season,” she said with a grin. “Watch out for the Orlando Pride!”