Taylor Aylmer had never started in an NWSL match. During her first regular season in the league with the Washington Spirit, she found herself coming on as a sub. But on October 16th, 2021, Aylmer earned her first-ever start.
The excitement didn’t end there for the Garnerville, NY native. In the 22nd minute, with one-touch off an assist from Julia Roddar, Aylmer chipped the ball over the keeper, scoring the first of two goals in a game against OL Reign. The Spirit would go on to win that game 2 - 0.
“It was almost a feeling of relief because of the nerves around your first start,” Aylmer told AllForXI. “I kind of blacked out! Your adrenaline takes over and you go on muscle memory of everything you’ve done your whole career.”
For Aylmer, being able to have an impact on the eventual NWSL Championship winning team has been special. As someone who entered the team mid-season, she credits her Spirit teammates for welcoming her with open arms, making her feel immediately comfortable on and off the field, and making the adjustment to the team as easy as possible.
“It makes moments like that, your first start and first goal, even better because you feel the belief and trust your teammates have in you,” Aylmer said. “To be able to perform and produce something quality for the club was just really special, fun, and exciting.”
Aylmer’s contract was up at the end of 2021, but she was re-signed to the team for the following year. In a press release put out by the team, head coach Kris Ward praised Aylmer for her contributions to the club.
“Taylor was a key piece of our midfield, especially in the second half of the 2021 season. Coming in as a national team replacement player can be very challenging, but she did an amazing job and we look forward to continuing to build this great team with her,” Ward said.
As Aylmer prepares with her club for the 2022 Challenge Cup and regular season, she reflected on her journey to get to this point in her career. And although that path was not as straightforward as some, Aylmer wouldn’t have it any other way.
From New York to New Jersey
Growing up in Rockland County, Aylmer was introduced to soccer at a young age and played for her local club. Her older sister also played, and so Aylmer spent much of her childhood training together.
Around the age of 12, Aylmer realized her love of soccer, often preferring it to the other sports she played as a kid.
“It was an easy decision to commit to soccer, and from then on out, it was full steam ahead!” Aylmer recalled. “I had goals for myself, and support from my parents who would drive me and my sister an hour each way to train in a small, high intense training environment two or three times a week.”
Aylmer didn’t have to go too far to continue on her soccer dreams. Just an hour south of her hometown, Aylmer played out her collegiate career at Rutgers University.
“My parents always thought I was going to go far away for school, but I ended up on a trip at Rutgers and fell in love with the environment, the coaching staff, and the team,” Aylmer said.
The thought of being in the Big 10 and playing highly competitive teams was a motivating factor in her decision to attend the New Jersey state school. “It ended up being the best decision, and I would do it all over again,” Aylmer reminisced.
One benefit of staying close to home was having her family attend her home games. “I loved and needed that,” Aylmer explained. “With so many local jersey girls in the program, all of our families and friends came to our games - you felt like it was one big family there.”
Rutgers continues to grow into a top-tier women’s soccer school, with seven former Scarlet Knights having played in the league in 2021. In addition to Aylmer, the league featured Kristen Edmonds (Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (Gotham FC), Casey Murphy (NC Courage), Madison Pogarch (Portland Thorns), Erica Skroski (Gotham FC), and Kenie Wright (Gotham FC).
This year, three new Scarlet Knights joined the league: Amirah Ali (San Diego Wave FC), Gabby Provenzano (Portland Thorns), and Frankie Tagliaferri (NC Courage).
“I’m very proud to be an alum and show people that Rutgers has the talent!” Aylmer said. “They show it at the collegiate level and in the pros with players that have had long, successful stints either overseas or in the NWSL.”
Finding her home
For Aylmer, her journey to the pros was not easy or linear. “It was stressful and crazy - but I’m grateful because it made me realize that I had to decide if this is something I wanted to do, and if it was, I needed to go and get it,” she said.
She was not drafted in her draft class of 2020, but she was invited by Sky Blue FC (now rebranded as NJ/NY Gotham FC) as a trialist for the 2020 preseason. Just days later, COVID-19 shut down the league.
“When everything got shut down, it was all in limbo. No one knew what was going to happen with the NWSL, and I didn’t have a contract,” Aylmer explained. “I only had 3 or 4 days of training before everything got shut down.”
She was not invited to the 2020 Challenge Cup in Utah that year. Instead, she stayed at home and watched the competition from her couch. This time was a make-or-break moment for Aylmer, who had to decide if she was going to hang up her cleats, or chase after what she wanted: to be a player in the NWSL. She decided to give it one more shot.
Aylmer ended up training with the Washington Spirit during the 2020 Fall Series but was not on a contract. “This is how I have to get exposure and my foot in the door,” she remembered telling herself at the time.
When the 2021 preseason rolled around, she again found herself as a trialist with Gotham FC and even played in one Challenge Cup game for the team that year as a National Team Replacement Player, but it still didn’t stick.
Ever determined to find a long-term place for herself in the league, Aylmer persevered until she found herself back with the Washington Spirit mid-season in another National Team Replacement role. That eventually turned into a full team contract for 2021, and she ended up winning the NWSL Championship with her team at the end of the year.
“By the end of the season, I felt so good on so many levels - for the team but also for my own personal growth,” Aylmer said. “I didn’t hang up my cleats when I was left out on the sidelines. I was able to find my way into this league and end up on a special team that had a crazy season and came out as champions!”
Over the course of the season, Aylmer made 10 appearances for the Spirit, including a late substitution during the NWSL Championship match where she helped her team lift the trophy for the first time in franchise history.
Spirit and strength
Getting to that championship win was not a straight path for the Washington Spirit. They had to overcome a number of obstacles: the firing of their coach Richie Burke for allegations of abuse, a contentious ownership battle between former owner Steve Baldwin and Y. Michele Kang, and two forfeits due to COVID-19 protocol violations.
Despite all this, the Washington Spirit were able to handle everything that was thrown at them.
“We started this mantra when things got crazy - ‘send it.’ That led us through to the championship - whenever things got hard we would just say: SEND IT!” Aylmer said. “Through everything, we had each other, and we were going to go for it.”
It was that cohesiveness that got the Spirit through while everything seemed to be blowing up around them. Now that things are settled, the team sees what they can do for one another, and sees how powerful and impactful their voices can be.
“We work to build that culture and uphold those standards. We won’t settle for anything,” Aylmer said. “And just having fun with it, too! Being in an environment that you genuinely love and enjoy every single day is so important.”
Even during the tough times, the team stuck together, tuned out the noise of anyone counting them out, and bet on themselves every single time.
“We know our team, the level of talent here is unreal. We have the mindset and the attitude of ‘say what you want, but we’ll prove you wrong!’ We knew what we were capable of, and that led us through,” Aylmer said.
So when the team eventually won the championship, it was absolutely unbelievable.
“We had such a long, crazy season with so many challenges thrown our way, that to be able to have that moment was surreal,” Aylmer said. “It was a hard feat to accomplish, but everyone played such a huge role in making it happen. Everyone felt that we did this together.”
With the 2022 Challenge Cup underway and the regular season quickly approaching, Aylmer isn’t slowing down. She hopes to continue to grow and learn with the Spirit in any way she can.
“There is so much experience on this team, and so many knowledgeable and talented players,” she said. “I’m trying to soak up everything in training and develop my personal game.”
As for the team, they want to push the standards, be the ones to beat, and be strong from top to bottom.
“Whether you’re a starter or a sub, you have an impact on this environment,” Aylmer said. “It will be an exciting 2022 - I think we’re all just ready to go. The fun starts when the games happen!”