Rylee Foster is right where she wants to be — and has the ink to prove it.
The 22-year-old goalkeeper from Cambridge, Ont., is a year into her career with the Liverpool FC women. Her love for the storied club pre-dates that, however.
Foster's grandparents were born in Wavertree, a part of Liverpool near where Foster lives these days.
"I've been a Liverpool supporter since I was walking and since I knew what the game was," Foster said from Canada's camp in Florida ahead of the SheBelieves Cup. "For me to be able to sign there and bring back my family name into the city where it originated has been an honour for me."
Her grandparents emigrated to Ontario after the Second World War. Sadly neither got to see her in Liverpool colours.
Foster got a tattoo of the club's anthem, "You’ll Never Walk Alone," on inside of her bicep after her grandmother passed away in 2013. Her grandfather died in 2018.
The Liverpool women have enjoyed mixed fortunes of late.
Relegated from the top-tier Women's Super League after finishing last season at 1-10-3, the Reds (6-3-4) currently stand fourth in the second-tier Championship.
"Being in the Championship hasn't been easy for the squad," said Foster. "It's definitely a new challenge every day. You don't know what kind of performances you're going to get from the clubs that you play against. It's been hard for us to kind of rise to the challenge every single day."
Foster has backed up Rachel Laws for the most part but has started in Continental League Cup play, making her competitive debut in October in a 3-1 win over Manchester United. Foster was called into action early, stopping U.S. star Tobin Heath from point-blank range two minutes in.
"That whole match was a career highlight for me. It was great to beat Manchester United. It was great to prove that Liverpool are a team that can still be in the (top-tier) WSL and compete at the highest level. And for myself, I can still compete with the best players in the world."
She subsequently lost group-round cup games to Everton and Manchester City.
Forster played collegiate soccer at West Virginia, playing alongside fellow Canadians Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence, Bianca St-Georges, Carla Portillo and Amandine Pierre-Louis among others.
Foster, who had 39 clean sheets in 84 appearances for the Mountaineers, signed with Liverpool in January 2020, arriving four games before the pandemic lockdown hit. It made for a tough transition, living alone in a small apartment.
"I unfortunately was in England for 3 1/2 months completely on my own," she said with a laugh.
"It was very challenging, I'll be honest," she added. "It was the hardest thing I've done on my own … I had just moved to England so I had no idea where people lived, who people were. I had no connections there yet."
But she managed, adapting as needed.
"I figured it out. I'm still here I'm still standing," she said "And it helped me a lot. It helped me learn about myself and what I need as an individual as well."
Foster faces stiff competition in the Canadian camp even if veteran 'keeper Erin McLeod (118 caps) was forced to leave due to injury. Stephanie Labbe (72 caps) is the incumbent while Kailen Sheridan (nine caps) was named top goalkeeper at the Challenge Cup last summer and was a finalist for NWSL goalkeeper of the year in 2019.
"To be in a camp environment with the girls that I've looked up to and aspired to be is an honour," said Foster. "It's exciting to be in training with them and learn from them because they are the best of the best."
Coach Bev Priestman is expected to trim her roster to 23 ahead of Thursday's opening match against the top-ranked Americans. Canada, tied for eighth in the world rankings, is already missing captain Christine Sinclair, midfielder Diana Matheson and defenders Buchanan and Lawrence, among others, due to injury and pandemic-related travel restrictions.
While Foster has represented Canada at the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups, this marks her first call-up by the senior side. But she is no stranger to Priestman, who summoned her to some 10 camps during her time as youth coach.
"I love working with her," Foster said. "She is an amazing coach and she's helped me develop as a player a lot."
Emma Humphries, Priestman's wife, was an assistant coach at Liverpool before quitting to move to Canada.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press