Rachel Daly has excelled for college, club and country. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sport)

This story is about two soccer players from Harrogate, England who wound up playing only miles apart in college on Long Island. One of those players, Rachel Daly, is a defender on the England women’s national team. England takes on the United States in a Women’s World Cup semifinal match in Lyon, France Tuesday. This story was originally published and posted on BigAppleSoccer.com on Oct. 26, 2015.

By Michael Lewis

Four years ago, the Hofstra University and St. John’s University women’s teams were recruiting left-sided players from Harrogate, England, a northern town at that time not necessarily known for producing talented women’s soccer players.

So, not surprisingly, St. John’s head coach Ian Stone got a bit suspicious, fearing the friend might be trying to entice the same left-sided player who had pace and attacking abilities, Hofstra head coach Simon Riddiough said.

“Harrogate is not that big of a town that there would be two players who are that talented,” Stone said.

Riddiough remembered a conversation between the two coaches.

“Ian was like, ‘A lefty from England. Can I ask you a question?’ ”

“What?” the Hofstra coach replied.

“If I tell you the name of the kid I’m recruiting you’re not going to recruit her,” Stone said.

Her name was Rachel Daly.

“I am not recruiting Rachel Daly,” Riddiough said.

No, he was recruiting someone else.

Her name was Leah Galton.

“Thank God,” Stone said.

“And we kind of left it at that,” Riddiough said. “He had his special player and I had my special player. We’re just very happy with them both.”

They cannot be happier with those players who have helped boost their respective programs into a higher orbit and put it into a position to win more games and command much more respect.

Rachel Daly and Leah Galton are considered to be the top women’s college players in New York.

While both their coaches are certainly proud of their accomplishments, they don’t get into a verbal sparring fight on each players’ merits.

“We really don’t get into ‘my kid is better than your kid or your kid is better than mine,’ “ Riddiough said. “It’s about ‘Your kid is really good.’ And he’ll say, your kid is really good. It’s that we both understand that they’re very special players, program changers, really. Depending on how each of us play them, will depend on who thinks whose better. It’s a mutual respect for both kids.”

Stone agreed. “They’re both phenomenal players,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of Leah and I’ve seen a lot of Rachel. They’re kind of different in a way, but have made a massive impact on Division I [programs] over here.”

Let us count the ways:

Daly, 23, has scored 18 goals, second among Division I women’s players, and assisted on four others in 17 matches for the Red Storm, which leads the Big East with a 6-1-1 mark and 14-1-2 overall. She also set Red Storm career records for goals (49). She is one goal short from becoming only the second player in the history of St. John’s soccer, men’s or women’s, to record 50 goals. Huey Ferguson, a two-time All-American, scored 50 for the St. John’s men from 1991-1994.

“She has improved a lot as a leader, making a big difference to our team. I thought she was always dangerous today,” Stone said of Daly’s two-goal, one-assist performance in a 3-0 win over Fairleigh Dickinson earlier this season. “She was always willing to go at goal, to take players on. She’s always involved in a lot of the things we do offensively, whether she’s getting goals or assists. So happy with the way she’s playing. The biggest thing for me is that she’s making her team better, her teammates better.”

Galton, 21, has 11 goals and six assists in 17 appearances this season, helping the Pride clinch the Colonial Athletic Association Hofstra regular-season title with a 7-1-1 mark as the Pride improved to 13-4-1 overall. Hofstra will host the conference semifinals and final from Nov. 6-8, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the Division I tournament.

She has set the Pride’s career points record and broke the career assist mark by tallying her 26th career assist, equaling Jerilyn Marinan’s record (1997-00). Galton has 120 career points and her 47 goals leaves her three shy of tying Sam Scolarici’s career record.

“When you see her you’ll notice her power and pace,” Riddiough said. “She’s just an unbelievably great athlete. She’s so fast and powerful. She also has a great left foot, strikes the ball very well, good in the air. She’s basically the whole package.”

So, just what are the odds of having two players from the same town playing some 18 miles apart in the United States?

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Riddiough said. “There’s always the debate who’s the better player, Rachel Daly or Leah Galton. Obviously me and Ian have our biases and I understand that. But for both to come from a small town in Northern England and pick a school outside of New York and not be the same school, is a tremendous surprise.”

“It’s bizarre actually,” Daly said.

The old homestead

In many respects it is quite appropriate that both star players perform for rival schools because their fathers played against one another in a semi-pro league years ago. A member of Harrogate Town, Martyn Daly said he played as a center forward until his late 30s.

“I’d like to think Rachel has inherited my talents!” Daly said in an email.

He remembered playing against Leah’s father, Barry Galton, “on many occasions.”

“He had a sweet left foot which his daughter has clearly inherited,” said Daly, who added that the two dads played on the same team later in their careers in Over-35 or O-40 leagues “as our careers were waning”

So, what is Harrogate? It is best known as being a spa town and tourist attraction in North Yorkshire, although in New York City and on Long Island, it has gained notoriety for women’s soccer. It has a population of about 75,000, according to the 2001 United Kingdom census.

The Daily Mail in 2013 reported that Harrogate was the happiest town in all of Britain, perhaps from its healing mineral waters.

Both players had only good things to say about their home, sweet, home.

“I love it. It’s always been my home, it will always be my home,” Galton said. “My whole family lives there. It’s very, I don’t know how you say it, posh. I guess for well brought-up people. I wouldn’t say it’s posh, but … it’s very tidy, clean, a real nice little place to live. I really, really like it.”

Likewise for Rachel Daly.

“Harrogate is a beautiful, historic spa town, and although I have never really been able to fully appreciate it, I still love it!” Rachel Daly said. “It’s a small town, and I’m lucky to have all of my family in Harrogate.”

Ditto for her Martyn Daly.

“Harrogate is indeed a beautiful Victorian Spa town famous for its ‘healing waters’ and the fact that famous author Agatha Christie disappeared from her home and was found here writing her classic ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ novel whilst in the Old Swan Hotel,” he said. “It is also a safe and friendly place to live and grow up. Quite clearly it is a hotbed of soccer talent for women! I suspect the spa water may have something to do with this.”

It certainly hasn’t hurt. Both players watched their fathers play and developed a love for the beautiful game.

Daly remembered playing at halftime of her father’s games.

“I loved having the ball at my feet,” she said. “I don’t know, I just wanted to win. I wanted to win. I want to win in everything I do. The girls will tell you they really don’t like playing many of the games in training because I always want to win. It’s just the competitiveness. I never wanted to play any other sport. It was just one of those things that the passion I had for it was indescribable.”

Both players came through the Leeds United ranks. Since Daly was the older of the two by two years, they rarely had an opportunity to perform or even practice together, although the two did do some training when Galton was moved up from her age group.

Galton said she and Daly took the same car together for their SATs to complete their college entry requirements.

“She told me she was going to Hofstra and I was going to St. John’s,” Daly said. “At that point I really had no idea of what Hofstra and St. John’s really were. It’s really weird how it happened like that.”

Both players had links to the future schools, Galton via an alumnus, Daly by a current player.

At the time, they did not realize how close they were going to be in the states.

The new homestead

While more known for her tenacious defense that setting up goals, you can give graduate student-defender Georgia Kearney-Perry a big assist for convincing Daly to attend St. John’s. They were friend back in England and used New York City as a recruiting tool.

“Coach always says that New York is a huge selling point,” Kearney-Perry said. “So, this was before the Super League in England had really kicked off. I just knew it would be a great opportunity. Rachel would fit in well here. She would enjoy the lifestyle. I mentioned it to her. She liked the sound of it. I put her in touch with coach. The rest is history.”

Daly said that she “always wanted to come to America,” but admitted she knew nothing about St. John’s.

“It was really late,” she said. “I decided in December I wanted to come here. I came home. I had an official visit in March. I just loved it. I’ve never really experienced any universities in America so I didn’t know what to compare it to, but I just fell in love with the place. I thought the environment was brilliant. It was a no-brainer for me.”

As was Hofstra was for Galton.

“I was always looking to go to America, to be honest,” she said. “It was always my dream when I’m old enough. When i graduated from high school it was the next big thing to do. I was looking at schools. Luckily, I know a player back home who had played for Hofstra before and she had come back home. ‘Oh, there’s a team in America named Hofstra. They’re looking for people. You’ll be really good. You’ll be able to fit it. Simon got a hold of me, basically told me about it and I was here. I signed.”

“It was a no-brainer,” Riddiough said.

Like Daly, Galton did not know what to expect at Hofstra as well.

“Obviously, I wasn’t expecting as much as it is,” she said after a recent game at Hofstra Soccer Stadium. “Compared to colleges back home, you don’t have this athletic group. You don’t have a field like this. You don’t have a baseball team, a softball team, a field hockey team. You don’t have all these different teams. Athletics is so big, it’s just amazing. You have all these people coming to watch. Back home, you wouldn’t get, 10, 15 people coming to watch. It’s definitely a lot bigger than I thought it would be.”

Galton has played regularly all four years for Hofstra, while Daly had to sit out her freshman year due to NCAA compliance regulations.

The 5-7 forward started out with 11 goals and five assists in her freshman season in 2012, came back with an eight-goal, 11-assist campaign for the Pride in 2013 before she followed that with 17 goals and four assists last season. He has 11 goals and six assist — and counting — heading toward the end of the regular season and CAA tournament and perhaps the NCAAs.

She had to change her style to fit the American college game.

“The England style of play is a much slower, methodical buildup type style, not as many athletic players,” Riddiough said. “Tactically good, technically good, but maybe not as athletic. Leah played within that style, one, two touch, kept it simple, played within herself a lot. Over the last four years she not only improved physically and power-wise, she’s faster and stronger. She’s becoming a bit more decision maker. What’s best for the team, not necessarily what looks best for her, but ‘what how can I best help the team? And if it’s me beating three players, that’s what I’m going to do. If it’s me playing a cross, that’s what I’ll do.’ When she first came here she just kept playing and passing people. She was a bit more unselfish.”

Red shirt-junior midfielder Jill Mulholland of Levittown, N.Y., who is second in goals with seven, has teamed with Galton for many goals the past several years.

“She’s been the best player I’ve ever played with my entire life,” she said. “You know when she gets the ball she is going to do something good with it for the team. She’s either going to get the cross in or a shot on goal. Everything’s always positive when she plays.”

Asked what has impressed her most about Galton, Mulholland replied, “Her aggression. She’s so tough. She’s so fast and her touch on the ball is so unreal.”

The 5-8 Daly joined the Red Storm as a defender, but Stone saw something in her game that would make her better suited as an attacker. It worked brilliantly, she shared the Division I goal-scoring lead in her sophomore year (23) in 2013 before tallying eight goals and four assists last season. She has become a terror this season with 18 goals, second best in the nation.

“I said that she could play anywhere for us, but she was probably our best player and I felt if she could score some goals for us, we could find a way to win games. Which sounds like genius now,” Stone said. “It’s kind of the way it has worked out. With Georgia Kearney-Perry [on defense) and with Diana [Poulin] in goal I could find a way to stop conceding goals. And obviously it’s Rachel to produce some magic to get wins.”

At first Stone wanted Daly to play on the backline as a freshman. Entering her sophomore year, she was moved up top.

“I played there as a kid,” she said. “That was my initial starting position. So I knew what to do. I didn’t know how good I would be at it. In my first year here I made a name for myself as a goal-scorer but as the years have gone on, I’ve become more of a creative player, more of a complete player. That’s always good, to help other people out to get more assists. It’s a great transition for me because it opens up more options elsewhere.”

Kearney-Perry saw Daly mature as a player and as a person.

“She’s always been a great player,” she said. “She has matured a lot in her role she understands now. There were times before when Rachel tried to do too much probably. … She definitely has [become] a better-rounded player. She can go out and play. She can finish. She can defend. Also the mental side of it. Rachel used to be a bit feisty on the field. She’s been a captain and a leader. She has calmed down a lot and really focused and matured and being a role model to the incoming freshmen.”

Because of their schedules — athletic and academic — Galton and Daly haven’t been able to watch each play live. They do have much respect for each other.

“I think Leah is a fantastic player and can play in a number of positions,” Daly said. “She has one of the most sweet left foots I’ve ever seen and she continues to show that week in week out for Hofstra! I didn’t get to play with her much back home, but I keep lookout for her games every week with us being so close in NY.”

Without knowing what her Harrogate colleague actually said, Galton returned the compliment.

“She’s a beast,” she said. “She’s pretty unstoppable to be honest. She actually went from playing midfield or defense. She played defense for Notts County in the pro league. Now she’s a forward.”

The postseason

Not surprisingly, with both teams leading their respective leagues, the players have hopes of reaching the NCAA promised land, the Division I tournament.

“Obviously we want to win the CAAs,” Galton said. “That’s a basic. We’re in it to win it. We want to go straight through the CAA, … get it done, win the championship, host the championship here. Win the CAAs. Then you’ve got a bye into the NCAAs, get a good draw and see how far we can go. I have a good feeling about this team.”

As does Daly with the Red Storm.

With a rock-solid defense and Daly up front, St. John’s could be playing deep into November and perhaps December.

“I don’t doubt it,” she said. “This is our year, definitely to push on to win the Big East. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can do it. I think we have to push on together. We’re a squad of 29. We absolutely show up every minute we play, off the field, on the field, whatever. I think we just need to push through as a unit. I have no doubt in my mind that we’re going to go far.”

Who knows? If the teams achieve what they set out to do and the NCAA stars align, they could face each other in the Division I tournament.

“It would be a really good game,” Galton said. “I would love to play that game.”

Beyond college

Beyond November and December lies a professional and perhaps an international career as well.

Galton wants to remain in the United States to pursue a shot at the National Women’s Soccer League whereas Daly hasn’t made up her mind just yet as to whether she will stay or return home to play in her homeland.

The Hofstra player will put her name into the National Women’s Soccer League draft, which traditionally is held at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention in Baltimore in January.

“Depending on what I get offered, what happens, see where I want to go,” Galton said. “I definitely want to continue playing, though.

“If I don’t get anything here, I’ve been looking at Australia; all these up and coming places, definitely an option.”

While he is biased, Riddiough has no doubt that Galton would be a standout in the U.S. national league.

“She’s good enough to start for a team in the NWSL,” he said. “Now which team, I don’t know. I think she would like to stay in this area, so she’s looking at Sky Blue or the Boston teams. There’s only eight or nine teams in the whole league. You don’t want to pick really where you want to go. I think that she would like to stay over here and play longer.”

Added Mulholland: “She’ll have no problem. She’ll easily get drafted. She’s one of the best players in the nation. She’s awesome.”

Daly is keeping her options open.

“I’m undecided,” she said. “I think more so edging towards going home but I’m not sure. I just want to finish my career here and finish strong here as I can here and then I’ll focus on it.”

Playing professionally won’t be the only thing Daly will focus on. There the international arena as well. She played for England in the Under-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and she has trained with the full national side.

It will be a surprise if Daly won’t be recalled for an England camp after the season. She said that England women’s national coach Mark Sampson touched base with her.

“He said he didn’t want to pull me out right now because he knows that pulling me for two weeks is like missing half the season,” she said. “He said in the new year when I come back home whatever I choose to do, after I finish playing here. He is looking to call me back in.”

Before then Rachel Daly and Leah Galton have some unfinished business to take care, such as winning their respective conference tournaments, reaching the NCAA’s and perhaps helping their sides do some damage and make some more headlines as they have done this season.