By David Fong
TROY — Growing up, Erin Yenney’s dream was so real and so palpable that she could almost envision herself in a packed stadium, beads of perspiration forming on her brow and the lush, green pitch beneath her cleats.
“When I was younger, being a professional soccer player was definitely a part of what I wanted for myself,” said Yenney, a 2011 Troy High School graduate. “Whenever we had a homework assignment and had to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I always wrote about becoming a soccer player.”
With age, however, came wisdom for Yenney. As her soccer skills increased — Yenney would go on to become the most-decorated girls soccer player in Troy High School history before moving on to play at the University of Louisville — her hopes of playing professionally diminished.
By the time she left Troy and began her career with the Cardinals, Yenney’s dream had become just that — a nebulous vision that didn’t seem worth chasing.
“As I got older and learned more about the world, I didn’t see many opportunities to become a professional soccer player,” Yenney said. “I honestly didn’t even know what that looked like. I began thinking, ‘Maybe I should just focus on becoming something else.’ I didn’t want to be just a soccer player anymore. I think a lot of that is because I really didn’t know what that even looked like or what that even meant.”
Yenney remembers watching the Women’s United Soccer Association — a professional league that arose following the fervor of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s thrilling 1999 World Cup victory — close down operations three years after it was born. Just an elementary school student at the time, Yenney figured her dream had evaporated.
Not so, however.
Her American dream of playing soccer professionally may be a thing of the past, but this past week Yenney began her professional soccer career in Sweden as a member of the Ostersunds DFF soccer club.
“I’m incredibly excited to have this opportunity,” Yenney said. “It really is a dream come true for me — one that I had kind of given up on when I was younger, to be honest.”
Yenney won nearly every award and accolade possible while playing at Troy. She was an All-American as a senior, a three-time, first-team All-Ohio selection, an all-region selection as a junior and senior, a four-time Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division Player of the Year and a four-time All-Dayton North First-Team selection. She still holds the school record with 89 goals.
Following her career at Troy, she went on to Louisville, where she made an immediate impact, starting in all 24 of the games she played and being named to the Big East Conference All-Rookie team. As a junior, she would be named to the All-American Athletic Conference team.
While at Louisville, Yenney also began to see her dream of playing professionally once again taking shape.
“After my sophomore year is when my vision of playing in Europe really started,” Yenney said. “I had five or so older teammates who had go on to play in Europe — Finland, Sweden, France, Germany, Spain. After my senior year, I told my coaches that’s what I wanted to do.”
Yenney played her final game at Louisville in the fall of 2014. Out of eligibility, Yenney would spend the fall of 2015 as a Louisville practice player, continuing to hone her skills on the pitch while at the same time pursuing her masters degree in industrial engineering.
She would continue to excel in graduate school — Yenney was named Ms. Cardinal her senior year, the award given to the outstanding Louisville female athlete based on academic achievement, extra-curricular activities and contributions to the university — while trying to catch on with a European soccer club.
“I talked to an agent some of my older teammates had used,” Yenney said. “I made a highlight video and put together a resume with my entire soccer history. We sent all of that along to a few different people and hoped for the best.”
Shortly before Yenney was set to graduate with her master’s degree last spring, Ostersunds DFF came through with the opportunity for Yenney to realize her dream. She left for Sweden eight days ago and should be there at least through the fall. She’s spent the last week settling into the apartment the team provided and is trying to learn to speak Swedish as quickly as she can.
“This is what I wanted to do as a little kid, but then it didn’t seem very realistic,” she said. “Things changed as I got older and now everything has kind of come full circle.”
And a dream has become reality.