Aysha Tural (No. 3 - center) and her teammates on the Turkish Youth National Team. (Photo courtesy of Aysha Tural)
Weeks after helping Real Jersey FC 2005 Girls (NJ) win their USYS National League P.R.O. group, Aysha Tural traveled more than 5,000 miles to play with another team. The midfielder earned a selection to train and play in April’s UEFA Development Tournament with the Turkish Youth National Team — when she represented the country in which her father was born and other relatives live.
Tural took some time to detail her unique experience and discuss some of the highlights of getting to compete with and against some of Europe’s top young players.
When did you first get contacted to be part of the Turkish Youth National Teams, and how did you get to be on their radar?
In 2019, my mom sent Begum Uresin — the current Turkey U-19 coach, who at the time was the U-17 coach — my highlight video. She liked it and we kept in contact. Unfortunately, Covid happened and everything was put on hold. When things started returning back to normal, I was contacted by Nazli Ceylan Demirbag, the current U-17 head coach. She invited me to a U-17 training camp in July 2021 and then again in April 2022 for another training camp and the UEFA Development Tournament.
For April's training and UEFA Development Tournament, where did your team’s training and games take place, and how was that experience?
When I arrived, we went to the TFF Riva national team training center in Istanbul. We had a week-long camp with training sessions 1-to-2 times a day. Then we flew to Malta, where the games took place at Centenary Stadium. On the days we didn’t have games, we had training sessions. I loved the training environment and working with the coaches and players from all over the world who share the same background as me.
How did you and the team perform in your games?
Overall, the team effort was amazing and everyone played like it was their last soccer game. The team worked very well together and we connected passes well. It was a team effort throughout the whole game and we played with heart. Coach Nazli has a great coaching style and teaches us to play possession, just like I play with my club. Personally, I think I played well during the games. Each game got better and I got more playing time each game. I even got my first assist for the team and created some great plays. I worked my way up and showed that I could play at that level with my teammates. We came out with two wins and one loss, but even during the game we lost we played extremely well and fought until the end.
What was your favorite part of being with the Turkish team and experiencing that event?
It’s hard to pick just one. One of my favorite parts had to be connecting with the other girls and making new friends. Once we all got comfortable with each other we were like family. The bond we all shared was amazing and in the short time we were with each other we got so close. All of us being so close outside of the field showed when we were on the field and that definitely helped during our games.
Another would be putting on the jersey for your country and stepping out on the field — it’s a feeling you can’t explain.
Were there any notable off-field highlights from your travels during the event?
Our experience in the airport was a big highlight of my trip. As a team, going through the airport with our warmups on, everyone took notice of us. We got to go to the VIP lounge while we waited for our plane to board, and we were all amazed by how we were being treated. We got driven by those carts to our gate and when we boarded we had the whole front of the plane to ourselves. Before takeoff the pilot sent us a message over the loudspeaker wishing us luck during our games.
What does it mean to you to have an opportunity to perform on an international stage and to do so with a European nation? That’s pretty unique for someone growing up in the United States.
It honestly feels like a dream. It was an amazing opportunity and I’m so grateful that I was able to experience it. As someone who grew up in the United States, I never would have thought that I would be playing for another country.
You also did some traveling with Real JFC 05 in National League P.R.O. — how did you enjoy that experience and the competition in the league?
Going to places like Florida and playing the best teams from all over the country was such a good experience. The competition was amazing and I think it made me a better player because it was a step up and I had to work harder for it. I’m lucky to be surrounded by such great teammates who all work for a common goal and have the same desires to play in college. One of my teammates, Allison Tighe, also shares the same international experience as me playing for the Peruvian U-17 National Team.
Your team finished first in its group to qualify for the USYS National Championships. How excited are you to compete for the National title this summer?
When we finally got that win to secure our place at Nationals, it was such a good feeling. I’m super excited to be able to play in front of hundreds of college coaches and fight my way to a National title. My coach, Martin Wood, is preparing us and pushing us hard to make sure we are ready to go and win it. The team and I can't wait to go to Florida and play.
Looking beyond this summer, do you hope to continue playing in college?
Yes, I would love to be able to play college soccer, it has been my goal throughout my soccer career to be able to play at the college level.
And have you received any indication from the Turkish coaches on whether you’ll continue to get opportunities with their program?
I am hoping my performance at the games will lead to more experiences with the Turkish YNT. I would be so grateful to be able to represent Turkey again and get to be in that environment with all the girls and coaches.
Aysha Tural (No. 8) and Real Jersey FC 2005 (NJ).