It is no secret that some amazing talent, both athletic and otherwise, has been born and bred in East Texas. There is no shortage of young men and women who show the kind of promise to succeed in any market, at any level. However, when it comes to soccer, there has not always been the opportunity to compete and train at a level that develops that talent into the ability to play and compete on a national, and even worldwide scale. When FC Dallas East Texas was formed a few years ago, the hope of the club was to provide access to that kind of training and development right in our own backyard; to help players reach their full potential and move up through the ranks of soccer and wherever else their goals and dreams would lead them.
As with any big dream, you don't always get to see the results of the labor immediately, but in East Texas, Taylor Webb is proof that amazing talent, as well as amazing opportunity, exists right here. A sophomore at Lindale High School, Webb was selected last year to join the world’s most elite female soccer developmental league, the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL).
“The Elite Clubs National League, Inc. is a non-profit member-based organization founded in 2009 with the mission to improve the daily environment of elite female youth soccer players in the United States. In executing this mission, the league has created the top female youth club competition in the world, player identification and development programs across the country, player health, education and performance platforms online and at ECNL events nationally, and club development and coaching education programs with experts from around the globe. In 6 years of existence, the ECNL has become the top female youth development platform in the world, the most heavily scouted platform for college soccer, and players developed by ECNL clubs now constitute 80-90% of the total US Soccer Youth National Team player pool,” the club’s website explains.
The ECNL league makes up the top 80 teams in the country per age group, and FC Dallas ’00 ECNL is currently ranked 5th in the Nation in their age division. Webb was selected in the later part of last year to begin playing with the Dallas-based team, coached by Ben Waldrum. Not only was she selected to the team, but she also starts and plays about 95% of each game at the center back position. Webb is not only a member of a top-ranking national team, she is also a multi-sport athlete at Lindale High School, playing for both the Varsity soccer and basketball teams, and in case that wasn’t enough achievement to pack into one 16-year-old’s resume, she is also a straight-A student.
“The fact that she can compete at two sports at her high school, and be a straight-A student, and play for the number five team in the country is pretty remarkable, but it has to do with the fact that, yeah, she’s pretty good, but she has some really good coaches that are supporting her. I think that’s another really big piece of the puzzle…she’s really been blessed with some coaches that have allowed her to compete and helped with her development,” Webb’s mom, Stefanie Webb, explained.
While a natural talent and ability definitely exist within Webb, she credits much of her success to the coaches and soccer environment she has been provided over the past 10 years in East Texas. Taylor’s talent for soccer may be partially inherited. Her mother, Stefani Webb, is the very successful head coach of the UT Tyler women’s soccer team, but until the past few months, Stefani has kept her role in her daughter’s soccer career to strictly a mom, fan, and encourager. “I never coached her until about six months ago, and that’s only because she asked,” Stefani explains with a laugh.
The Webbs moved to Tyler about ten years ago, and despite Stefani’s background in higher level soccer, she knew that the best thing for her daughter was to let her just enjoy the game. She had seen too many players pushed in the early years and experience burn-out before they ever reached middle school. She knew that the game should always be fun first. Webb started her soccer career playing recreational league soccer with Tyler Soccer Association. At age 10, she started playing Academy soccer with her local team, Sting FC ’00, and the next year she played with Sting East Texas, the team that would eventually become FC Dallas ETX ’00. With exposure to many great coaches through both club soccer and UT Tyler, Taylor continued to develop into an extraordinary player, catching the attention of many other great coaches in the East Texas soccer community. While she has been playing soccer for a long time, it wasn’t until about six months ago that Webb decided she was ready to try to push her soccer involvement to the next level.
“She was doing ODP (Olympic Developmental Program) and got to go to regional camp for ODP and had a great showing there and got a lot of interest from great coaches, and I think it kind of spurred her interest, but she said, ok, hey, I think I can do more, I think I can do better. And I think that drive is what led us to being a part of FC Dallas,” Stefanie explains about how Taylor began to move toward her ECNL accomplishment.
FC Dallas ETX coaches Kenny Jones and Stefanie Webb set-up a weekend of “friendlies” against some of Dallas-based teams in the club. Taylor’s FC Dallas ETX ’00 team took on a group of ’99 girls from the Dallas area, and it was during that showing that Taylor’s talent was spotted by ECNL coach Waldrum and she was invited to join the elite team.
“That’s one of the biggest benefits of being part of such a big organization is that you’re around, or you’re able to compete with different teams within the club and give your kids access to different levels [of play] within the club. So, we took our East Texas team and they competed against three teams from the Dallas area, and she [Taylor] really showcased herself well there and was picked up from that.” Stefanie said.
So far, Webb has traveled to Phoenix, Florida, Dallas and Houston to play with the ECNL team, who is working towards the national championship game in June. With the chance to travel and play throughout the country comes the opportunity to be scouted by colleges with some of the top women’s soccer programs in the U.S.
“As of right now, I just want to play college,” Taylor explains of her future soccer career goals. “I mean, that could change, I just decided I wanted to play in Dallas six months ago, but right now, I just want to play college soccer.”
With her current exposure and success on the national team, Webb looks to be on course to achieving her dream of playing college soccer, and maybe even any developing dreams of moving beyond that to a bigger stage. As much as she has experienced success as a player, for Taylor, it’s not really about the accolades or the achievements, it’s about having fun playing the sport that she loves.
“My favorite thing about playing is just how happy it makes me. I love training, I love playing, I love the teammates. I just love soccer. It’s just all fun to me,” Taylor explains.
She also loves the high-level of intensity that playing in the elite ECNL league brings and the fact that playing around other players who compete at such a high level pushes her to be a better player as well. Her love of the game fuels her passion and also her success, but Taylor is also quick to point to the support and encouragement of her mom as a key factor to the success she has found in soccer. Growing up watching her mom coach a highly-successful collegiate program definitely spurred her love and pursuit of the game as well as providing countless role models for the young athlete.
“I looked up to those college girls she was coaching as if they were the national team. I wanted to be one of those girls someday,” Taylor said of her time on the sidelines of her mom’s program.
The Webbs give lots of credit to the FC Dallas organization both in East Texas and as a whole for helping Taylor develop and achieve the level of success she is currently experiencing. Having the support of the local FC Dallas club, as well as her long-time FC Dallas ETX team is a vital part of Taylor’s success story.
“It helps a lot because we have 2-3 trainings a week and without that, I would have to drive all the way to Dallas for every training…it’s really helpful to have it here in East Texas…My East Texas team, I have grown up with them and I love them to death. I would do anything for this team. So I get to have practice with all of my best friends,” Taylor said about her local FC Dallas community.
While on some levels, Taylor realizes the grand stage that she has been put on by this opportunity, she definitely seems to keep the game in perspective and continues to play soccer with the realization that it’s a game, and games are meant to be fun.
“When I get to play at such a high level, it’s just crazy to think that so many college coaches are watching. I’m playing with my friends and we’re just all having fun, but still it could set us up for our future…but it’s just still so fun.”
Every career counselor and life coach worth their salt will tell you to do what you love and love what you do. It is clear that Taylor is doing just that.