Paige’s turn: a late A-League acquisition

Versatile Adelaide United workhorse, Paige Hayward’s, alternate path to the Liberty A-League through the US College system has shaped her as a player fit for all positions.

Versatile Adelaide United workhorse, Paige Hayward’s, alternate path to the Liberty A-League through the US College system has shaped her as a player fit for all positions.

Hayward ventured to the United States as a 19-year-old first with University of Texas Brownsville, and then Texas Southern the following year while studying to be a dietitian.

Hayward was fortunate to have a great deal of support both in her new life in the States and back home, with her parents sharing the realistic view that she could always return if things didn’t work out the way she wanted.

She had to give it a shot.

While a move abroad at such a young age can be isolating, Hayward found motivation in her coaches reaffirming that she was good enough to be there, and it was true.

“I moved to the US without family, but it was always a dream of mine to play professional football and it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Hayward said.

“I was playing and starting in all the games which was a big motivator, and I knew I couldn’t give up.

“Of course you miss home but my parents were still great support from afar and they visited twice a year for a while which made it easier.”

Hayward excelled with the TSU Tigers, scoring 25 goals across three seasons while starring in the 2016 campaign having recorded a prolific 13 goals and five assists.

She simultaneously spent time with the Houston Aces in the United Women’s Soccer league and was invited to National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) outfit Houston Dash as a non-roster invitee.

Hayward also trained at Dash with US international stars Kristen Mewis and Kealia Watt, and fellow utility in England’s Rachel Daly, which also pushed the Australian forward to further heights.

In 2021, the attacker moved to Austria to represent FFC Vorderland in the Frauen Bundesliga and scored one goal in five appearances.

Hayward then signed her first Liberty A-League contract with Adelaide United in the 2021/22 season as a 26-year-old in what may be a surprise to many.

Her adaptability arrives from a hard-working ethos and willingness to play in any part of the pitch.

“I think because I work hard and coaches see that I push no matter what position I am playing, it allows me to play in any role that is required that day,” she said.

“When I was in college and my whole life, I had been a central midfielder and one day the coach asked me to play No. 9 and take the team on my back in a way.

“It’s what they needed from me at the time, and I was happy to help.”

Hayward had a similar experience in Austria where they needed someone to add some goals and some creativity, so she became more of a winger.

And at United, she has been floating in a left full/wing-back position, but don’t be surprised to see her gut-running up and down the field all day.

Originally, Hayward hails from a prodigious sporting family with rugby league in her blood.

It was, in fact, a sport that she wanted to play too, but her dad wouldn’t allow it and firmly suggested football instead.

“My brothers played rugby league and so I wanted to play rugby league, but my parents said no, you can play soccer or any other sport and we’ll support you.

“So I got put in soccer when I was four and have loved it ever since.”

Nowadays her parents come to just about every third game, home or away.

Hayward’s big engine also comes from passions for fitness and food, which she combines for maximum output on the pitch, and in her outside life as a dietitian.

It showed in her inaugural campaign last year, where she registered two assists in 10 appearances, with more reward for effort surely to come for the Reds this season.

And once she finally returned to play in her home league for the very first time, United made it feel like home from the beginning.

“It was Adrian (Stenta) that reached out and that’s how I got to Adelaide last year, and of course I wanted to return this season,” Hayward recalled.

“The team culture was always great from the get-go, so it was a no-brainer.

“To move back home from the States and then interstate with Adelaide to what feels like another family has been awesome for me and I’m really enjoying it.”