01 Nov Under 20 World Cup Star Mollie Rouse Reinvigorates Career At ‘Ultimate Goal’ Academy
The second series of BT Sport’s Reality Show, Ultimate Goal begins on Tuesday once more hoping to showcase the best women’s soccer talent outside the professional league. For Mollie Rouse, a bronze medalist with England at the under-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2018, it represented a chance to reinvigorate her career.
Filmed at the England National Team training center at St. George’s Park this summer, the talent show brings together a disparate group of female soccer players from different backgrounds into an intensive coaching environment to be trained by former England international players Eni Aluko and Rachel Brown-Finnis and receive expert masterclasses from current stars like Lucy Bronze and Vivianne Miedema in the hope of impressing invited scouts at a showcase match and eventually earning themselves a professional contract.
One of the contestants to make the final sixteen of the show, Rouse starred in central midfield for an England side which reached the semi-finals at the under-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2018 before defeating hosts France on penalties to win the Third-Place Play-Off and secure a Bronze Medal. Ten of that 21-player squad have subsequently earned call-ups to the senior national squad with Rouse’s midfield partner Georgia Stanway playing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup itself in 2019.
Meanwhile Rouse, capped over 60 times at youth level and one of eight of that England squad playing in the United States college system, was ostracized by her soccer coach at the Louisville Cardinals and forced to train on her own. “After the World Cup, I was on such a high”, she told me. “Then I missed pre-season with my college. I had previously missed pre-season to play in the European Championships the year before. I came back and it just wasn’t the same, I did feel I was being utilized differently just because I’d missed pre-season. I tried to have mature conversations about it but they were taken the wrong way”.
“All I wanted to do was to ask what I needed to do and improve on and how I could get the minutes I was hoping for. The conversations just weren’t working and the relationship between me and the coach was lost. The worst part was that I was told I wasn’t allowed to use any of the facilities. I wasn’t allowed to play on the soccer pitches there, I wasn’t allowed to use the gym. I was literally just kicked off. I had two or three months where I just had to find random grass patches to do my running, all those sort of things. I would never say it stopped my development because I found a way to develop under the circumstances, but obviously game-time is valuable. Missing game-time there was tough”.
Rouse found salvation in a transfer to the University of Central Florida where she was coached by former United States Olympic and World Cup winner, Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak. Rouse told me, “she happened to play in my position when she was a player. Firstly just getting the information for my position specifically was world-class. She’s played against the best, she has played with the best as well”.
“You just gain so much experience and little details that you just would not have thought of. She also prides herself in developing players off the pitch, learning the details off-the-pitch that can make you better on-the-pitch. To have that advice, to learn and grow as much as I did under her wing was incredible. I only ended up being there a year and a half with Covid but I honestly learned to much under her in my time there. She’s just a role model to me now”.
After graduating in 2020, Rouse was now looking to earn a professional contract in England and catch-up to many of her u20 international team-mates who are now established players in the FA Women’s Super League. “Obviously playing college soccer in the United States was a great experience and it really has developed my game a lot. I know that my next step is really to establish myself in a club and be consistent there and then that could cause me to be on the radar for the senior England team, but establishing myself as a professional is probably the next step in helping me reach my final goal”.
So has it been frustrating for Rouse to watch many of the team-mates that she played with at youth level go on to become professionals and play for the senior England team? “It’s never frustrating, I actually feel quite proud to know that my team-mates have made that jump and I’ve watched them do it. Playing with them first-hand at the World Cup, you see how hard-working they are, the work they put in to get to that stage. Everyone’s journey’s different so I’m just going on my journey to get there. They’ve done there’s. I’m just more of a proud team-mate. Seeing them reach their goals, makes me happy. I know I’m going to keep working hard to reach my goals”.
“I would not have done anything differently. I know from going to the United States, I developed as much as a person as well as a player. I managed to get the balance, I got a degree out of it. I know how much I’ve grown on and off the pitch from that experience. The girls who are in the seniors now, a lot of them have been through the American system, so it is proven to have worked to get you to a high level, but it’s just that everyone’s path is so different. I’m only 22 years old, I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of time to do it. So yeah, no regrets!”
In January 2021, Rouse signed for Lewes FC Women in the FA Women’s Championship but despite playing last season in the second tier of the English game, Rouse felt the opportunity to compete in the Ultimate Goal reality show and receive expert coaching from current and former international players was too good an opportunity to pass over. “Lewes wasn’t professional when I was there, it was evening sessions. It wasn’t technically a professional environment. That is my goal and the show obviously promotes itself as helping girls reach the professional level. I also want to see how high I can go”.
“I’ve seen many girls in my age group progress to the top leagues and that is my goal to do that, to be playing at the highest level I possibly can. Learning off really experienced players. That was a big reason that I wanted to come onto the show, to see what I am capable of, to learn under Eni (Aluko) and Rachel (Brown-Finnis) all these different experiences and keep pushing on really”.
Rouse felt no resentment from her fellow contestants, many of whom applied for the show precisely because they were never given the opportunities in soccer that she has already enjoyed. “I’ve not felt any of that sort of vibe at all. We’re all here for the same reason, so we’re all on the same page. What you’ve done in the past, is in the past, it’s all about the present. We all want to become professional. We’re all at the same level and we all look each other in that way. I think the girls here are great, we’ve all really bonded over the ten days on and off the pitch. It’s great to learn off each other, and grow and encourage each other. It’s just been an all-round great experience”.
Subsequently to appearing on the show, Rouse has joined another second tier team, London City Lionesses, a side currently pushing for promotion into the Women’s Super League. Upon signing for the club in July, she said “after conversations with the staff and girls, it was evident this was a club with huge ambition. I knew right away it would be an environment where I will be challenged and encourage to develop on and off the pitch. I am really excited to get going!”
Ultimate Goal series two premieres on BT Sport 3 on November 2 at 2215 GMT, with episodes airing over the next five weeks on Tuesdays on BT Sport. All six episodes from series two will be available to watch via the BT Sport App from November 3.
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