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Karly Tolentino is ready to get shooting boots back on for Cambridge City Ladies

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Cambridge City forward Karly Tolentino. Picture: Chris Mosley (42254458)
Cambridge City forward Karly Tolentino. Picture: Chris Mosley (42254458)

Karly Tolentino wasted no time in making an impact for Cambridge City Ladies last season.

In what turned out to be a truncated campaign, the 27-year-old made the footballing transition from playing across the Pond with ease.

Tolentino was City’s top scorer in the FA Women’s National League, Division One South East with 10 goals in 18 appearances.

And, in the penultimate match before lockdown, she scored two goals at Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium as the Lilywhites won the Cambs Women’s Invitation Cup.

It was no mean feat, but perhaps was to be expected from someone for whom the game would appear to be in the blood.

Having started playing aged five in her hometown of Rochester, New York, Tolentino has progressed all the way up to even international level.

With the structure very different in the United States to this country – and much more emphasis put on playing through the education system – Tolentino describes some of the steps along the way.

“You always start in the house league, which is local communities. From there you move up to a travel league,” she says.

“You needed to be around 10 years old, or around that, to play in the travel league, which I think has now been lowered.

“It’s the team that you do college showcases with, and travel and do a lot of tournaments.”

For Tolentino, that included going on tour to both the UK and Spain.

Along with her commitments to the club side in the travel league, the youngster earned a full-rights scholarship to Monroe Community College, and represented them at the national tournament where she was scouted by a college coach.

She was recruited to Monmouth University on a scholarship, with the school in New Jersey being in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Division One – the top tier of competition.

In her senior year, Monmouth won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), although were knocked out in the first round of the NCAA by Penn State.

Cambridge City Ladies striker Karly Tolentino. Picture: Chris Mosley
Cambridge City Ladies striker Karly Tolentino. Picture: Chris Mosley

Having played for the Rochester Ravens and a Buffalo side in the off-season from college, when her career took her to Washington DC, Tolentino joined ASA Charge in Maryland in the Women’s Premier Soccer League.

“I was really happy to find that team because it gave me the opportunity to still play competitively,” she says.

“A lot of the collegiate play on WPSL teams in the off-season during the summer to get ready for pre-season for the school season.

“I was playing with a lot of players from Maryland University, Towson University, all the Division One sides, so I was able to keep that high-tempo environment which was something that I was really thankful for.

“I ended up playing for ASA Charge for about three years, but my last year in DC unfortunately the team didn’t get funded so they were no longer in existence.”

It begs the question – how the standards compare?

Women’s football has always felt far more advanced in the United States compared to the UK, although it seems as if we are starting to catch up, with the opportunities increasing in recent years.

“You are comparing apples with oranges in terms of structure,” says Tolentino.

“It took a minute for me to figure out the system. I think the league, being at my age now, I’m happy to still play competitively.

“The [FA Women’s] National League is certainly of the pace I’m used to so I’m happy with that. In terms of training timelines it’s a little bit different here.

“I think pre-season started last year July time and then we went all the way through to May – that is abnormal in the States.

“You break up your seasons. You have your summer falling into fall league, then you typically have your winter indoor leagues.

“You basically work it around your college time. For me, in terms of season length, it was a little bit different.”

Cambridge City Ladies striker Karly Tolentino. Picture: Chris Mosley
Cambridge City Ladies striker Karly Tolentino. Picture: Chris Mosley

It is also sometimes difficult for us in this country to understand the importance of college ‘soccer’, which is hugely important in the US – it does not equate to university football here.

The level of interest is immense around all things NCAA, and it was during her junior year at Monmouth that brought about the highlight of Tolentino’s career.

With Philippines heritage, she had been scouted playing for the college as the national team were trying to build a squad for the Asian Cup.

“We would do training in California. A lot of the Phillippine players that were still living in the Philippines would come over and we would do our training there,” she says.

“I was able to do the LA Viking Cup with the team. It was a really good experience. A lot of the players I started with, they continued onto the team for about three years.

“It was doing pretty good, but in terms of the calibre, they were struggling to get the US players which they were targeting.”

With all things considered, it is no surprise that when her career led to the UK that Tolentino would go in search of a football team.

And it was by chance that she found City on Google.

“I had reached out to a couple of teams, because I didn’t know how the seasons worked, when pre-season started, or how the timeframe was here,” she says.

“Cambridge City was the first one to reach out to me. Shortly after, I did hear from MK Dons but by that point I had already heard more from Cambridge City.

“They were extremely welcoming and very communicative. I came in blind not really knowing the structure of how the football league works here. They were very understanding as well.”

If Tolentino, who is searching for a player sponsor for the new campaign, picks up where she left off in March, then more goals and good times could be ahead for City, who start their campaign at home at Ely City FC to Billericay Town on Sunday (September 20).

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