(Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile)
Back in 2017, California native Kyra Carusa was one of the top scorers for the Stanford Women's soccer team, a Division 1 team aka one of the best in the States. In 2018, Kyra also played for Georgetown, ANOTHER D1 team and even received a graduate degree in Integrated Marketing and Communications! Alas, Kyra didn't stop there! Kyra went on to make her professional soccer debut by playing for the French club, Le Havre AC for a few months in 2019. Last year, Kyra gained her first cap with the Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team as they competed in the 2020 UEFA Euro Cup. Currently, Kyra plays for the Danish club, HB Køge.
In this interview, Kyra discusses her soccer career, gaining a cap for the Irish Women's National Team, wage gaps and her ambition to play in the Champions League one day.
Wandering eyes, this is Kyra Carusa's story...
When did you realize that you were good at football?
I honestly have no idea. I would say I knew I was good enough when I was 9 years old and coaches would talk to my parents, trying to recruit me. My parents would say they knew I was good the minute I started playing soccer as a toddler but they never told me out right. They always wanted me to play soccer because I loved it and enjoyed the game, not because it was an expectation.
Having attended some of the best universities in the country, how were you able to balance academics and soccer? What advice would you have for collegiate athletes who are overwhelmed?
My greatest advice is to seek help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in academics or soccer. Prioritize your spare time wisely, but don’t forget to enjoy the little things that make you happy. It is nearly impossible to be happy and successful when you work all the time. Take a deep breath. Breaks are healthy.
How did you end up playing professional football in Denmark?
After college I was drafted to play in the National Women’s Soccer League in the US but I felt the need to be abroad. Once I received my Irish citizenship, playing soccer abroad became a much more attainable goal. As an EU citizen, rules are different in terms of working, traveling to different countries, and being rostered on European teams. I played in France for 6 months and then changed over to Denmark. I am incredibly happy with my decision.
Was it always your dream to play football professionally?
Absolutely. There is something inside of me that feels restless. I could never be content stepping away at this point. We have all our lives to get traditional jobs, sit at a computer and work a 9 to 5. What I have right now is something I can never hope for again later in life.
How does it feel to call yourself a professional soccer player?
Rewarding. An accomplishment that does not come with a diploma or universal accolade but solace in knowing what you sacrificed and what you do everyday is something to be recognized - even if it is just for you.
How does Denmark view football compared to America?
Denmark emphasizes tactics and technique much more than in the US, but so does most of Europe. Football for women is growing rapidly here as teams see investing in a professional women’s club brings in more of the community and financial success through sponsorships.
How has COVID impacted your career?
I am very fortunate to be able to play during the pandemic. There were about three months in 2020 where no soccer was played but after that, I was able to travel and play. Denmark is quick to act when dealing with COVID which has allowed for sports to continue on safely. I am very fortunate for this.
What are some of the hardest things you face as a soccer player?
The lifestyle. The travel. The mental, emotional and physical demands. The pressure is a privilege and you have to be comfortable with that, but it doesn’t make them any easier. It is a very different path than the ones your friends take in life which is kind of terrifying.
Looking at the road ahead for your career, what do you want to accomplish? Any tournaments/cups you would like to take part in?
I want to compete in the Champions League. I want to play against the best of the best in Europe. I imagine myself coming back to the US to play one day, but for now, I am really enjoying my journey here in Europe. Outside of the club, I want to help the Irish National Team qualify for a major tournament.
What are some of your biggest accomplishments?
Being where I am today is an accomplishment in itself. I tore my ACL a month before reporting to my freshman year season at Stanford. Being able to fight back from injury and become a starter at two top level collegiate programs is something I am very proud of. I believe my greatest accomplishment thus far has been my development as a football player - growing an understanding of the game, recognizing my weaknesses and improving my skills.
You received your first Irish Women's National Team cap during their game against Montenegro in the 2020 Euro Cup. That experience must've been exciting! What was that like for you? Did you experience any sense of nervousness? How did it feel when you walked out on the pitch for the first time and realized you were representing and competing for a whole country?
Getting my first cap was a humbling experience. I felt an overwhelming sense of pride to be able to represent the Republic of Ireland, especially since it would not have been possible without my grandparents.
What was it like playing for the Under 23 - US Women's National Team? How does it compare and differ from the Irish National Team and Ireland's style of play?
Playing with the U23- USWNT was an honor. It felt rewarding to see my hard work in college soccer be recognized with a U23 call up. The Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team call up was an honor as well. Both environments are the best of the best and highly competitive. I enjoyed each of those experiences.
Seeing how soccer is in the States, France, Ireland and Denmark, do you think that women are treated the same as men?
In the world of soccer, women and men are definitely not treated the same. Beyond the facilities, staff, budgets, the title of “professional soccer player” rings differently to each. A professional men’s player is placed on a pedestal for their work while a women’s player is questioned for her decision to pursue this path and asked when it will end. Of course, this comes from wage gaps and long standing cultural stigma but it is disheartening to see men being applauded for pursuing what they love and women questioned for it.
I believe the women’s game of soccer needs the same investment of time, money, resources and effort that the men’s game has had the privilege of having. Although a few clubs are willing to put this investment into the women’s game right now, more are starting to. There are investors, there is interest, and it is exciting to see a viable market for women’s professional soccer emerge.
What do you want to see change in the world of soccer? Especially as a female soccer player?
I want to see women being able to do what they love and make a career out of it. I hope the world recognizes and respects the passion, intensity and competitiveness women bring to the game of soccer because it is there and will continue to be.
Lastly, what does soccer mean to you?
Soccer is the opportunity of a lifetime. I am humbled by what it has taught me, privileged by the doors it has opened. Sometimes I think timing was everything, other times I’d say luck. Regardless, the sport is the most consistent thing in my life. I find a calm happiness in knowing that.