Taylor Lytle, in her sixth season in the NWSL, is well-known in the league after playing five seasons with Sky Blue FC before being traded to the Utah Royals FC in the off-season. She was a part of the first major trade for the new club, one that brought her and Kelley O’Hara to Utah and sent Shea Groom and Christina Gibbons to Sky Blue FC. Not only was the trade significant for Utah, but also for Sky Blue, who bid farewell to the last players from Sky Blue’s inaugural NWSL roster in 2013.
The trade to Utah would be a change for the midfielder, going from the east coast to the west part of the country, closer to the mountains and closer to home. Lytle hails from Las Cruces, New Mexico where, when she was five years old, to be like her older brother, began playing soccer.
But there were not that many opportunities to play club soccer in Las Cruces back then.
“I was fortunate enough to start playing in Albuquerque, which is three hours from where I lived,” she said. And from there, she continued to the college level, playing at Texas Tech where she served as team captain in 2010/11 and became the school’s all-time career assist leader.
Lytle graduated in December 2011 and was anticipating playing in the WPS, but the league folded a month later. Instead, Lytle went to the USL W-League for the summer, the semi-pro league in the U.S., playing for the Pali Blues in Los Angeles.
She did not have to wait long for another professional league in the U.S., the NWSL was in the plans in 2012 to launch the following year, and Lytle was signed as a discovery player ahead of the 2013 season with Sky Blue FC. Unknown to many, Lytle began as a “super-sub” and then to a regular starter in the midfield for the New Jersey-based club.
I asked Lytle about her time with Sky Blue, for which she reflects with gratitude.
“I loved being there,” she said. “It was nice to be a part of a team for five years, and it felt like a family by the end.”
On the NWSL as a League
Since being in the NWSL from the beginning, Lytle has been a part of a league trying to grow, which brings lessons along the way about the competitiveness of a season.
“You can never really settle because there’s so many amazing and talented players coming from college, and now that the league is getting bigger, it’s bringing players from other countries. It’s nice to be able to go to training every day and go into our games every weekend and know that this is the best of the best, and the competition is insanely high. Anything can happen in these games, and that’s what’s exciting cause you can’t ever go into a game and think, ‘Oh, we have this.’ You always go and give everything.”
With a league in its sixth year, the first women’s professional league in the U.S. to reach that milestone, a highlight for Lytle as a player has been seeing players reach the 100-game mark.
“I feel like everyone has been always unsure about the league, and the leagues before have folded, so I think to see all these women be able to get to 100 games is something huge because it shows that this league is stable, and there definitely is a future for it.”
After five seasons with Sky Blue, the time came for Lytle to move on from the only club she ever only knew in the NWSL. The 2017 season for Sky Blue was full of headlines, from the hat trick heroics of Australian international Sam Kerr to their head coach, Christy Holly, unexpectedly resigning in August, and the club did not reach the playoffs, finishing in 6th place.
Sky Blue then hired Denise Reddy, a former Washington Spirit assistant coach. Lytle talked to her new coach about her future, and she was able to have an honest conversation. ”I had been trying to get back to the west coast for some time,” she admitted.
A few days after Christmas, on Dec. 28, Lytle found out from Reddy that she was being traded.
“I was holding my breath because I didn’t know where I was going to go. And she said ‘to Utah,’ and I was very overwhelmed because I was just so excited to be a part of this organization because it seemed like it was just going to be so professional, and I wanted to be a part of something that was just beginning. It’s nice to say that you’re on this team from the very first game.”
The next phone call she received was from head coach Laura Harvey and General Manager Craig Waibel welcoming her to the Royals.
Lytle joined her new team for preseason in February and immediately noticed how involved and invested the ownership was in their new team, including seeing owner Dell Loy Hansen at trainings at least once a week.
“It’s nice to know that he is raising the bar for everyone because it can only help this league grow more,” Lytle said.
That appreciation goes further, whether it’s getting up every day and seeing the mountains, something that Lytle is familiar with from growing up in New Mexico, to going to work at the state-of-the-art Real Salt Lake training facilities and having brand new lockers rooms that the club unveiled right before preseason.
And then there’s playing for Laura Harvey, whom Lytle very much appreciates and respects.
“Every day, she’s teaching us something new, and I like it because she tells us something she wants us to do, and she explains why. For me, that’s helpful. And she doesn’t let us settle, which is always good because you reach an age and people are like, ‘Oh, this is it.’ But she’s always like, ‘No, we can be better.’”
New Team, New Role
This season has been different for Lytle so far. Last season, she was a constant on the Sky Blue FC line-up, starting in 20 games and playing 1,688 minutes. This season, Lytle has made one appearance, coming off the bench against Orlando for 26 minutes on March 24.
I asked her what has been challenging about being a sub and having limited playing time, and how, as an athlete, did she approach that going into practice every day.
“The main thing is to go into training, stay positive, prove myself, and believe and trust in Laura that there is this process that’s going on and that eventually my time will come, whether that’d be going in the 85th minute and changing the game or coming in early or starting. For me, it’s just taking a day at a time and knowing that I have to give 100% because you have to do something that’s going to change the game, and you have to do something that’s going to make them want you in the game.
It’s been different, but we have a really good group of girls, and they definitely challenge you every day to be better, and that’s the exciting part.“
Along with that, Lytle wants to be a good teammate and make a difference in a game, whether it’s to score or help people score in her role as a midfielder.
To hear more on Lytle, including her favorite soccer team, favorite player growing up, the best part about her home state, funniest player on the team, and how chemistry in #URFC is growing, stay tuned for the Royals FC Show, Episode 12 where we feature this chat in full length.