Soccer player Leyla McFarland has dreamed of dribbling the soccer ball and scoring goals on the professional pitch since she was a tyke. In fact, the day after her birth, the former Pepperdine Waves soccer player was placed in front of a television to watch a Manchester United match.
“I have been playing soccer my whole life,” McFarland said.
Her professional soccer dream came true on Jan. 16. The 22-year-old, whose five-season college career ended in November, played her first match with Pachuca Femenil of the Women’s MX League in Mexico. McFarland’s team faced Toluca.
On Jan. 14, McFarland said playing pro soccer is everything she has wanted and worked for since she was 4 years old.
“I knew this is what I wanted, and I am so happy it worked out,” she explained. “It happened so fast.”
McFarland signed with Pachuca Femenil after Pepperdine’s 2022 season. She traveled to Pachuca, the capital of the Mexican state of Hidalgo, on Dec. 16 to train with the team before its season started on Jan. 6. McFarland could not play in Pachuca Femenil’s first game, a 1-0 triumph over Queretaro, because she was not registered with the MX League yet.
McFarland said reaching her dream is exciting.
“I feel like I’m going to click with the team really well,” she said. “I am just ready to play and do what I love to do.”
McFarland said being a member of the squad is great. Her first month with the team featured training, getting used to Pachuca’s high altitude, and getting to know her teammates.
“I love my teammates,” McFarland said. “They are super welcoming.”
McFarland wants to add a high level of aggressiveness to Pachuca Femenil. She described the team’s play as technical and possession-oriented, while in her time as a Wave, she played a faster pace of soccer.
“I want to be able to implement without taking away from the technical or possession-style,” McFarland said. “I want us to score a lot of goals. My teammates are aware of that. People go forward when I get the ball.”
The soccer player grew up 15 minutes away from the United States’ border with Mexico and graduated from Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, a school in which Spanish is heavily used in the classrooms, so she is fluent in Spanish. That has eased her transition to her new club even more.
The rookie is following in the footsteps of her friend Mia Fishel into the professional ranks. Fishel, who played collegiately at UCLA, is a forward for Tigres UANL of Liga MX Femenil, a squad in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
McFarland and Fishel have been friends since they were kids. They played on various youth teams together. Fishel’s first season in Mexico was last season, and McFarland kept up with all over her friend’s exploits.
“I visited her a few times and loved it,” said McFarland. “She led the way for me a little bit. I fell in love with Mexico and the support you get from teams here. She introduced me to her team, and I felt super welcome.”
McFarland was the third-leading scorer on Pepperdine last season with five goals. Her 11 points was tied for third on the Waves. McFarland’s 88 games played rank second on the Pepperdine all-time list. She finished her career with 15 goals, 16 assists, and 46 points. She was an All-West Coast Conference second teamer in 2020.
McFarland was unsure of her soccer abilities her freshman and sophomore years even though she was a key contributor for the Waves. She gained more confidence her junior season when she expanded her skillset. Her senior season was also a success even though she broke her foot that year. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact in the sporting world in 2020, the NCAA gave college athletes an extra year of eligibility.
McFarland wanted to take full advantage of her fifth season.
“I said, ‘This needs to be my year,’” she said. “I wanted to do everything I needed to do to be a pro because that is my dream. With the support of my coaches and team, I was able to do that.”
McFarland sent The Marketing Jersey Agency her highlight reel after Pepperdine’s season ended. The agency signed McFarland and put her in contact with Pachuca Femenil.
Her time at Pepperdine, McFarland stated, prepared her to take her soccer game to the next level.
“The coaches were super supportive,” she said. “They always believed in me and my abilities.”
The former Wave is confident in her abilities to be a successful pro soccer player.
“I know what I can do here and know I can be valuable,” she said. “That has been super huge to know. I left Pepperdine prepared to go pro. I haven’t lost the confidence Pepperdine gave me.”