You may not have heard of Phallon Tullis-Joyce before this year, but the Long Island, NY native has certainly made a splash during her short time in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Tullis-Joyce signed with OL Reign last summer where she joined a strong goalkeeping unit led by Sarah Bouhaddi. When Bouhaddi returned to France at the end of the season, the Reign were in need of a new starting goalkeeper. They put their faith in Tullis-Joyce. “I just waited for my time, for the opportunity to come, and it’s now! I’m happy to be here at OL Reign.” Tullis-Joyce told AllForXI.
Tullis-Joyce has already made her mark in her new role as starting keeper with the OL Reign. The 25-year-old goalkeeper not only helped steer the team into the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup tournament with 19 saves, but earned Save off the Week three times during the course of the campaign.
So who is Tullis-Joyce? The New York native spoke to AllforXI about what it took to get her to this very moment.
Long Island roots
Growing up in Suffolk County, NY Tullis-Joyce played soccer all over the Long Island, mostly in Nassau County.
When she turned 15, she turned her attention to Match Fit Academy in New Jersey. During the drive to New Jersey, across Long Island and New York City, Tullis-Joyce would do her homework in the back seat while her parents drove. The twice a week trip could be upwards of three hours each way.
“We worked it out with the coach where I would go to one practice a week and the games on the weekend,” she explained. “Thankfully my parents were all about it.”
By the time Tullis-Joyce left Long Island to focus on playing in New Jersey, she had already committed to playing in college - but most important to her was the ability to also study her passion, marine biology.
Going to the University of Miami was not a hard decision for the 6” 1’ goalkeeper. The school would allow her to continue playing soccer while simultaneously earning her degree. From the moment she stepped onto campus, she knew it was the place for her. But it wasn’t until later that she realized she wanted to go pro. “I never really anticipated playing soccer professionally, to be honest,” she explained. “I always had my mind set on becoming a marine biologist!”
Part of the reason Tullis-Joyce hadn’t thought of going pro was because of a lack of exposure to the professional game. “It’s not that I didn’t want to do it, I just didn’t think it was an option.” she explained. “It wasn’t until my senior year that I realized I wanted to go for it.”
For Tullis-Joyce, a career in marine biology would still be waiting for her on the other side of a professional soccer career, and she wanted to utilize the limited years available to an athlete to continue on with soccer. “It’s not like marine biology became a plan b, it just became a plan later,” she said with a smile.
Bienvenue en France
After college, Tullis-Joyce found herself in a very unfamiliar place to start her pro career; France. She was interested in pursuing her career in France from the start, intrigued by the French style of goalkeeping and enchanted by the top-tier talent playing in the European country, and the timing worked out perfectly with the end of her 5th season at University of Miami.
She joined Stade de Reims, a second division team, in January 2019 and made her debut that April. In her first season with the club, she helped bring the team into the French first division. The following season, she was able to slot into the first keeper spot and helped the organization come in 7th place in one of the most competitive leagues in soccer. “Making the jump to become a professional soccer player when you had never even thought of the idea was really wild, and I absolutely loved France. I loved that experience and being completely immersed in something new,” Tullis-Joyce said.
Starting her pro career in France came with challenges. In addition to the competitiveness of professional soccer, she had to become accustomed to a whole new culture. Thankfully, her teammates and coaches at Stade de Reims were welcoming beyond measure and she is forever grateful for her time there. “I have such great memories of the team. I played the most minor role possible in the team moving up to D1, but it was still really cool to see all the celebrating and be a part of that. I’m really grateful I was part of those six months,” she said.
Tullis-Joyce made the most of her time in France off the pitch, too. The goalkeeper picked up the French language so well, that she was able to give pre-game pep talks to her French teammates. “I wouldn’t say I’m fluent because I’m still very shy with it - but I still had to pick it up. The first six months were really difficult, I couldn’t understand anything in the grocery store. The peanut butter was in the foreign aisle next to the ramen noodles. It was wild!” Tullis-Joyce said.
Now, Tullis-Joyce no longer needs to go to the foreign food aisle to find her peanut butter. Last summer, at the end of her second season with Stade de Reims, she was scouted and signed by Seattle’s OL Reign. “I was halfway through my second season with Stade de Reims when I got the call from my agent that OL Reign was interested,” Tullis-Joyce said. “I was ecstatic, I was shocked!”
According to Tullis-Joyce, OL Reign was interested in Tullis-Joyce for her experience playing on a possession-based team in addition to her skills in shot-stopping and ball distribution.
“I am super grateful for the time I spent with Stade de Reims. I loved the coaching staff and players there, they really helped me on my journey, but at that point in time I was ready to take that next step to keep pushing myself further,” she said.
Again, Tullis-Joyce found herself joining a team mid-season in a backup position, but she used this time to get familiar with the team and the NWSL. “Coming in last season in the middle was difficult,” she explained. “With the caliber of the NWSL, I had to learn very quickly the speed of the game, the style of the game, and the players when I came in last July, but it was an interesting experience.”
She relished the opportunity to learn from a player like Bouhaddi, but with the keeper departing the club at the end of the 2021 season, it was now Tullis-Joyce’s turn to step up.
“I gave it my best [in that first season], grinding it out as usual. It wasn’t my first time being a second goalkeeper. It keeps happening to me in every part of my career. I’m no stranger to that!” Tullus Joyce said with a laugh.
For casual NWSL watchers, seeing Tullis-Joyce burst onto the scene was incredible to watch. Her instant success on the pitch this season quickly made her a fan favorite not just with OL Reign but around the league. She credits much of her success to Kurt Kelley, her goalkeeping coach from back home on Long Island. “I’ve been playing goalkeeper since I was 12, and I’ve had the same trainer at my home base in New York on Long Island: KK Athletics,” she said. “Kurt was always the type of coach that reinforces being a hard worker. Even if you make mistakes, be a hard worker.”
A big part of her “be a hard worker” mindset is that even when she stumbles, she still gives 100% to the team, no matter what. “Even last season when I was third-string or wasn’t rostered, I was putting in the extra hours and extra training sessions,” she said.
At OL Reign, her goalkeeping coach Ljupčo “Raki” Kmetovski gave her so much time outside of regular practice to work on what she needed help with. “I love learning, whether it’s school or soccer, I’m definitely just willing to improve,” she said.
What a half for Phallon Tullis-Joyce— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) May 1, 2022
So many great saves pic.twitter.com/ru5Gb1oh64
With Tullis-Joyce in goal this year, OL Reign clinched a semi-final spot for the Challenge Cup where they are heavily favored to win the tournament.
She was also instrumental in their first regular season match on Sunday night against Washington Spirit where she made 10 saves and earned the team’s Player of the Match honor. Even though the Reign lost 2-1, it was Tullis-Joyce’s presence in goal that kept them in the game.
“All around, we have some really great personalities on the team where you can trust people off the field, and that leads to a lot of trust on the field. You know if you do make a mistake, they’re there to cover your back,” she said, “We have the balance of a team that has so much quality with its players technically, but also has that grit. Some games aren’t pretty, and we can still play a gritty game.”
As for the rest of the regular season, Tullis-Joyce believes in her team. “We’re that team with a ridiculous amount of quality and we’re a team that’s going to go to work. That’s what we’ve been doing all pre-season and I think you’ll continue to see that this season. We are 28 players on our squad that are willing to put our heads down and grind through it,” she said. “I think it will be a very exciting season.”