Caitlin Foord was nervous to leave her home for six months and play soccer in New Jersey, but in what other universe does an 18-year-old Australian get to play alongside a legend like Christie Rampone? As a defender for the National Women's Soccer League team Sky Blue FC, Foord is getting an education that is hard to duplicate.
"I don't train every day at home, so to come here and train every day with such intensity, I thought it was real hard because I wasn't used to it," Foord said. "But now I'm used to it. It's good and with the games, they're like international games for me week in and week out. It's been tough, but I'm really enjoying the challenge."
In early July, both Foord and fellow Australian Lisa De Vanna were called to play in Europe by their national team. The absence served to highlight what has become apparent -- a league built to strengthen North American leagues isn't exactly hurting players from Down Under.
"The reason the U.S. is so successful is they have this 'never stop' mentality," De Vanna said. "That's what we need in Australia."
Sky Blue is in the top three of the league standings with a 9-4-4 record and 31 points. De Vanna is tied for eighth on the NWSL scoring list with five goals.
"Australia is an improving country, but their league has an even shorter season than ours," Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra said. "To truly improve, you have to be playing against the best players and in the best league."
He said the Australians have stood out this year because fewer European players have come over because their championships conflict with the NWSL season.
Foord and De Vanna are sharing a house with other Sky Blue players. Despite their origin, they are a bit of an odd couple. Foord wants to see as much as she can in the area, while 28-year-old De Vanna, who has played in the U.S. three previous summers, has been through that phase.
"I can't do that," De Vanna said. "I need to sit down and relax."
But De Vanna has been a resource for Foord. Her path was much the same in coming to the U.S. She also experienced the trial by fire that comes with playing against the Americans, who finished as runner-up in the 2011 World Cup and won gold at the London Olympics last year.
"I was excited to come over with someone I knew," Foord said. "I think that helped me make my decision."
De Vanna thinks the NWSL has a better shot to make it as a league, specifically because the national federations of Mexico, Canada and the United States are involved. She said that adds big-picture perspective in the decision-making, which can keep disagreements between individual owners from becoming disruptive.
Australia didn't qualify for the last two Olympics and has made it no further in World Cup competition than the quarterfinals -- in 2007 and 2011. Ultimately, Foord and De Vanna hope they can adjust to the physical style the Americans play to help their national team reach a higher level of competition.
"The U.S. team is the best team in the world, so that's what everyone is striving for," Foord said.