“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
It’s a common expression in sports, but it’s one that Sky Blue FC, a team that hasn’t boasted the same amount of star power as other teams in the NWSL, has embraced, especially over the past couple of seasons when it’s had to rely heavily on its rookies.
But for Madison Tiernan, one of the members of Sky Blue’s 2017 rookie class, that expression exemplifies who she has always been as a player, even back when she was just five years old and playing on her first rec league team.
“I was always known as the tenacious kid, the tough kid. I didn't have the best skills, but I always wanted to be the hardest worker on the field. That's just something my parents ingrained in my head from the beginning,” Tiernan said. “I might not be the most talented but I didn't want to let anyone outwork me, and I obviously still have that mentality.”
With her father being a football coach, it was only natural for the Voorhees, New Jersey native to follow the sports route. Besides being a self-proclaimed “diehard Eagles fan,” Tiernan was a three-sport athlete, playing basketball until her sophomore year in high school along with softball and soccer. Despite her interest in other sports, she always dreamed of being a professional soccer player and like other players her age, looked up to the stars of the United States women’s national team, including the pride of women’s soccer in New Jersey herself, Christie Pearce.
“When we were growing up, the big player was Mia Hamm. Every girl aspired to be like her, especially when we were younger. Obviously growing up, [I looked up to] Christie Pearce, and now I get to play with her, which if I would have said that to myself when I was 12 or 13, I would've said 'No way!' Now I'm in practice laughing with her, it's just so surreal.
“You have to take a step back and really appreciate it because these are women that I looked up to when I was younger, and being able to play on the same field with them is an honor.”
Although Tiernan might not have been the most talented player on the field, her work ethic paid off, and she became an accomplished soccer play in Jersey during her high school years. She was named the offensive MVP all four years and MVP her junior and senior years at Eastern Regional High School and was a two-time All-American. She was also a member of the U.S. U-15 youth national team and was a two-time Olympic Development Program (ODP) national champion. When she graduated, she was the No. 1 girls soccer player in the state.
And that was just some of her accolades, no doubt making her a highly coveted attacker for soccer programs around the country. However, she knew she wanted to stay as close to home as possible, and after a visit to nearby Rutgers University her freshman year in high school, Tiernan’s mind was already made up.
“I just knew, 'This is where I belong, the people are just like me.’ And it just felt like home and that's somewhere you're spending a lot of time, so it has to feel like you're home.”
Rutgers may have also felt more like home since she already had connections to their soccer program. Glenn Crooks, her ODP coach, was head coach at Rutgers when she committed and began her collegiate career. She also knew Mike O’Neill, who served as an associate coach before taking over after Crooks’ retirement, from her time with PDA. That helped her know that the Rutgers coaching staff was capable of helping her grow and develop into the best collegiate player she could be.
But for Tiernan, playing in her home state presented an even bigger opportunity.
“I went into Rutgers with two other girls from my club team...and we talked about when we were going to Rutgers, we wanted to be a part of the change, a part of putting Rutgers on the map, changing the culture, making it a place where every little girl wants to come. Instead of seeing all these little girls running around in UNC shirts and jerseys, we wanted to see little girls running around in Rutgers shirts.”
Tiernan and her teammates were able to do just that. In 2015 for the first time in program history, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights advanced to the College Cup, the Final Four of the NCAA soccer tournament. Their opponent in the semifinal round was Penn State, who had just denied them a Big 10 title weeks prior. Once again the Nittany Lions emerged victorious, defeating Rutgers 2-0, but Tiernan and the rest of her team were just proud to have made it that far.
“That was, honestly, that was our whole goal,” she said.
She entered her senior year on the high of that tournament and had the best year of her collegiate career. Starting all 20 matches at forward, she led the team in goals (11) and points (28) and was named the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association College Player of the Year. Tiernan also made her mark on the record books as much as she did on the field. She’s second all-time in shots (275), tied for fifth for game-winning goals (9), sixth all-time in goals (25), and seventh all-time in points (66).
Unlike many of her collegiate teammates, Tiernan knew that she wasn’t done playing at the conclusion of her senior season.
“When we lost to Georgetown that last game, for a lot of my teammates, that was the last time they were ever going to step on the field, but I felt like I had so much more to give to the game and I'm not ready, I wasn't ready to fold in my cards. So I really talked to my coaches and they were like 'This is something that's attainable. You're young, why not go for it now?'
“So honestly when my season ended was when my next mission began, so I never really took my foot off the gas, kind of just put my head down and kept working and knew that it would all pay off in the end.”
And pay off it did, when Sky Blue FC selected Tiernan with the no. 24 overall draft pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft. Although Tiernan did not make the cross-country trek to California to attend the draft, she watched at home surrounded by her friends and family. When she heard her name called, she said she was at a loss of words, unable to describe what she was feeling. All she knew was that her childhood dream of being a professional athlete was coming true. Getting to live out that dream with her local team was even better.
“It ended up working out in my favor,” she said of her decision to enter the draft, “and here I am still in Jersey playing on my college field, which is so cool.”
However, it wasn’t until Tiernan took the field for the first time for Sky Blue that she said she really felt like her career as a professional athlete was real. In just the second game of the season, Tiernan subbed in for Leah Galton in the 70th minute, making her professional debut.
Since her debut Tiernan has made 10 appearance for her club, starting in four. Her biggest contribution thus far came on Sunday, June 25 when Sky Blue was on the road playing the Chicago Red Stars. In just the third minute of the match, Tiernan scored her first professional goal off of a Taylor Lytle-corner kick, helping her team take a point from the Red Stars.
“I kind of just blanked, didn't even realize that the ball went in the net,” she laughed, “but when I got up and everyone was running at me, it was such a cool feeling. Especially that early in the game, to get the lead against a really good side was really cool.
“Obviously as an attacking mid, your role on the field is to score goals, so I knew that I had to make an impact, get my name out there. It was good to get the first one under my belt.”
With her first appearance, first start and first goal all out of the way, now it’s just about contributing to the team in the best way possible. For Tiernan, that’s through more hard work and a lot of Jersey pride.
“I really love where I am. I love being home and just getting to play soccer here is awesome, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.”