It was half time, and Western New York Flash was up 4-0. Sky Blue FC was struggling to find any sort of rhythm on the field, and WNY seemed to capitalize on any Sky Blue error and any lucky play that came their way.
But at the half, head coach Christy Holly decided to make a player change, subbing forward Tasha Kai out in favor of English-international Leah Galton, the second-round draft pick who had only officially been added to the roster two days prior.
It would the debut of Galton’s professional career and the difference maker for Sky Blue.
Within 10 minutes of being subbed in, Galton gained possession of the ball, saw Kelley O’Hara moving into space, and placed the ball perfectly at O’Hara’s feet. O’Hara took a few touches before firing a ball into the corner of the net.
Right off the bat, Galton was making an impact for her new club. And while the assist and O’Hara’s goal wasn’t enough to overcome the four-goal deficit Sky Blue entered the second half with (Sarah Killion would add another goal for the Sky Blue side when she converted a penalty kick in the 85th minute), it was enough to prove that Leah Galton just might be the answer to some of Sky Blue’s offensive problems this season.
Growing Up Galton
Galton, 22, grew up in Harrogate, England, the youngest of three daughters to Larry and Gina Galton. It was her father, a soccer player in his own right, whom Galton credits with not only with introducing her to the sport at an early age, but also instilling in her a love of the game.
When she was just four or five years old, her father, a right forward at the time, would take her with him to his weekend soccer matches, where she got her first taste of the game.
"I used to go and watch him every game on the weekends. It was my favorite thing to do," Galton said. "On Saturdays I used to go with my dad, I used to watch him and he used to bring me onto the field and play with me and kick with me and everything. He just knew from a young age that—he didn't force me into doing it, he just knew I wanted to do it, that it was me who wanted to be there because I wanted to play—so he asked me if I wanted to join a team and of course I said yes."
So her family signed her up to play with the Leeds United Academy, the player academy closest to Harrogate, and she began working her way up through the teams.
As a child growing up playing soccer, Galton had two dreams: coming to America and playing soccer professionally.
"You know, people always ask you, ‘Oh, what do you want to do when you're older?’ or your friends ask you, ‘What do you want to do when you have a job?’ and I was always be like, ‘I want to play soccer, like I want to be a professional soccer player,’" Galton said. "And honestly, everyone would be like, ‘Oh, okay. Maybe we'll see,’ and like not really believe in it, you know, and just kind of push it away. But I always, from a very young age, I always wanted to play [professionally]."
While at St. John Fisher Catholic High School, Galton continued playing for Leeds United Ladies FC while also playing for her high school. She also added cross country and athletics, the British equivalent of track and field, to her repertoire.
"At high school, I didn't really do any of the sports. I mainly focused on soccer, but I was actually a runner. I did cross country. I did athletics, like a lot of people do in the summer, like the 100 meter sprint, 800 meter. I did long jump. I did things like that, but nothing too big," Galton said.
In 2006, her school’s cross country team won a national championship, in part because of Galton’s speed and endurance, something she claim is more the product of good genes than anything else.
"If you're quick, you're quick. If you're good at long distance, you're good at long distance. I think it's genetic. My dad, he's still very quick. I only recently beat him in races, so he's still pretty quick for an old guy," she joked.
That speed and endurance translated well onto the soccer field, and soon she began being noticed on the national level. Galton began working her way up her country’s youth system, playing on the English U-15, U-17 and U-19 women’s national teams, although she was shifted back to center back to do so.
The American Dream
Galton’s play with youth national teams earned her the attention of Hofstra University, who began recruiting Galton when she was just 17.
"Hofstra came to me, and I visited with the team and talked with the coach and visited the place and it was a whole new world for me," Galton said. "In England, colleges don't really have a good standard of sport. It's more, you either go to school or you actually go to sport. You don't really do both at the same time. So being able to get my degree and play at that level was definitely something I wanted to do, and like I said, [going to America] was a dream when I was little."
So despite being a self-described "homebird," Galton packed up and moved away from her family and across an ocean to attend Hofstra University and to achieve the first of her two childhood dreams.
In her freshman year at Hoftsra, Galton had an immediate impact. Throughout the season she shifted between playing up top and in the midfield for the Pride, but she proved just how versatile she was when she played in her national team position of defender in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) semifinal win against top-seeded William and Mary. Her defensive efforts helped the team reach the CAA championship game, where they defeated the University of North Carolina Wilmington to win the 2012 CAA championship title. The team also made it to the NCAA playoffs that year, but they fell in the first round to Boston College.
Galton finished her freshman season having started 21 of 22 matches played, and she led the team with 11 goals, 27 points and 70 shots. She was second in the CAA in goals and points and ranked third in shots. For these accomplishments, Galton was named the 2012 CAA Rookie of the Year.
Her next three years at Hofstra continued much the same way. She continued leading her team and league, and, in her final season with Hofstra, once again helped lead them to the NCAA playoffs. Despite suffering an injury in the first-round match against Georgetown, Galton started in the second-round match against Rutgers.
"It was unbelievable," Galton said of that match. "I was playing with a torn quad at the time because I tore my quad in the previous game in the first round when we beat Georgetown, but there was no way I was not playing in my last, in my potentially last college game."
Galton played approximately 70 minutes in that game before subbing out. At the final whistle, Hofstra was down 2-0 to Rutgers, ending their run in the playoffs and, with it, Galton’s collegiate career.
"It was amazing. I mean obviously, in college, I built memories that I'm never going to forget, like the feeling of being on the field," Galton said of her final game. "It was obviously sad to end my season and my college career, but I wouldn't have wanted to go out any other way."
Galton’s 48 career goals ties her for second-most in team history, her career 26 assists tie her for the all-time lead in assists and her 122 career points are a program record. She is the only player to have won three consecutive CAA Player of the Year awards, and she was a Missouri Athletic Club (MAC) Hermann Trophy semifinalist her senior year.
Living the Dream, Round Two
After her senior season with the Pride, Galton decided to declare for the 2015 NWSL collegiate draft, almost on a whim.
"I put my name in the draft not thinking I would get drafted, you know. Like I didn't fully believe that I would have a shot, but there was no point in not [declaring]," Galton said.
Despite Galton’s low expectations, her impressive résumé was enough to get her drafted as the no. 13 overall pick in the second round by Sky Blue FC, and with that, she achieved the second of her childhood dreams.
"I gave myself a chance, and thank God it worked out," she said.
Although unable to officially join the team until after graduation, per visa requirements, Galton did participate in the team’s preseason camp. She nearly scored in the team’s preseason match against St. John University, and she tallied an assist in the match against the University of North Carolina.
After graduating from Hofstra and having her student visa switched to a professional one, Galton was officially added to Sky Blue’s roster on May 19. Just two days later, she made her professional debut.
However, joining the team several weeks into the season, Galton found herself having to overcome a couple of unexpected obstacles.
"Coming straight in after they'd been together for a month, and me just walking in and playing and joining in at practice, it was difficult. That was definitely the most difficult challenge," she said. "Getting up to game fitness, I hadn't played a full game since November, and that's where I was struggling with my fitness. Practice, practice was a lot quicker than at Hofstra, obviously, since Hofstra's a college team, a good college team, don't get me wrong, but professional soccer's obviously a lot quicker. In practice, and just getting to know the other players, how they play, I mean, it takes time to bond with your team and to understand how other people play around you. I think right now, where I am after being here [four] weeks, I think it's finally clicking."
Coach Christy Holly agrees.
"Leah has been a fantastic addition to our squad. We are delighted with the progress that she has already shown, and it is very exciting to know that she has only begun to display her class as a player," Holly said. "She gives us power and speed in the final third, and she has a very clinical nature to her finishing. Leah is also a very popular player throughout the team, and she fits in perfectly with the type of culture that we have been establishing within our club."
In just 382 minutes played so far this season, Galton has scored one goal and tallied three assists, second for the team in assists only behind Taylor Lytle. Her crosses are deadly, and her speed has wreaked havoc on defenders.
"I couldn't have asked to do much better, to be honest," she said of her performance so far this season. "I am working on keeping it up and keeping that impact going because now I don't want to just be someone who starts and goes through the game. I want to have that impact that I had when I came on for the whole game."
It’s that desire to make an impact that serves as Galton’s motivation as she continues to train and develop as a player for Sky Blue. That, and the desire to make the man who got her into the sport proud of her accomplishment.
"I love speaking to [my family] and having good news and letting them watching the games and watching me shine," she said, "and I love making my dad proud."
Although few things are ever certain in sports, two things are certain for Leah Galton: she will continue to make a difference on the field for Sky Blue, and she will continue to make her father proud.