Kayla Saager’s path to playing at the professional level was filled with a variety of twists and turns that started during her youth playing days in East Islip.
Having recently signed to play with 1.FC Slovacko of the Czech Republic’s First Division, Saager has fulfilled her dream of playing professional soccer that at some points in recent years may have seemed out of reach.
A series of knee injuries that started when she was a middle schooler in East Islip has challenged Saager through high school and into college. But she has persevered.
“I’m very excited,” she told SleterFC.com during an interview just prior to leaving for Europe. “Since I was a little girl this is what I wanted.”
In a follow-up interview, Saager said things with her new team have started well. “I absolutely love it here, way more than expected,” she said. “The level (of play) is really high and competitive, which is exactly what I was looking for. The biggest struggle has been the language barrier with my teammates and coaches. But each day gets better and we work together so it works out.”
Deciding to sign a pro contract and play in Europe was not a cut-and-dry decision for Saager. Since graduating from Binghamton University, where she played her final two seasons of college soccer, she thought long-and-hard about turning pro given her previous health issues.
Her injury problems started with an ACL tear as an eighth-grader, which kept her off the pitch for 18 months. During her junior year of high school, she suffered a meniscus injury that would reoccur during her freshman year at North Carolina State.
As a result of her knee injuries, Saager suits up for each training session and match with a large brace on her left knee. While it looks cumbersome, it has done little to slow her down on the pitch. In her two seasons at Binghamton, she appeared in 37 matches and had 22 goals.
“I had to think about my body and if I still wanted to put it on the line,” she said. “But I love this game so much and (playing professionally) has been my dream. I couldn’t step away without going all out and trying to fulfill my dream.”
A major factor in Saager going pro was her two years at Binghamton. She spent a year at North Carolina State and West Virginia before transferring to upstate New York. Her time with Bearcats was key in helping boost her confidence.
“Every part of the Binghamton staff from the strength coaches to the coaching staff and the athletic training department helped me prepare and recover,” she said. “There were a lot of things I had to change since my body has been through so much.”
And despite the many challenges and physical setbacks, Saager said she never thought about giving up.
“I never had that moment, even now when I was thinking about whether to play or not,” she said. “For me, it was about whether I could handle it. I didn’t want to go (to FC Slovacko) if I wasn’t healthy enough. But I worked hard and I know I am healthy enough to play. I still have that itch and wanted to fulfill my dream.”