NCAA / U Sports

Exclusive interview with Canadian pro soccer star Paige Culver

Laura Pestel/ASJ Soyaux

Paige Culver is a professional defender playing for ASJ Soyaux-Charente in France’s Division 1 Féminine. 

She joined ASJ Soyaux this season after suiting up for Pink Bari of Italy’s Serie A in 2020-21. An All-American with Kent State University, Culver was named Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. She earned three consecutive All-MAC First Team honours during her time at Kent, spanning from 2016-2018. 

There’s no question that this is just a sign of things to come from Culver. Should her positive run of form continue, she’s poised for a Canadian national team call-up from Bev Priestman.

We had the privilege to catch up with Culver prior to ASJ Soyaux’s match with Dijon FCO:

Growing up in the town of Oakville, Ontario, tell us about some of your favourite youth soccer memories?

“I played for Oakville Soccer Club [in Ontario, Canada] for most of my life, some of my favourite moments were being able to play with my sister. Her and I are twins, so we were always on the same teams growing up. That was a cool experience for me because as we became older and went to university, we no longer played on the same team, so I really enjoyed those moments. Another good memory was when my team won the Ontario Cup — I think it was in 2012. That was a really fun time in my youth career. At the club level in Ontario that was the biggest tournament to win at the time, so it was an incredible accomplishment for us. I have so many great memories of road trips, and tournaments with my friends. It’s hard to choose only a few.”

A soccer-crazed city starving for success, take us through your decision to sign for Pink Bari? What have you taken away from the experience?

“I was really eager to play professionally after university and my agent presented me with the opportunity to play in Serie A for Pink Bari. We both agreed that it would be a good first step for my career and a great opportunity to play against some of the best players in Italy. I think it ended up being a really great step for me. I learned so much in my time at Bari. It’s difficult being thrown into a professional situation for the first time when you don’t understand the language, so that was a big adjustment for me. I met a lot of great people. My teammates were amazing, and I built a lot of friendships I will have for a long time.

“This challenge also forced me to learn a lot about myself. After my first game in the league, I remember calling my dad and saying, “Dad, I don’t know if I can play at this level.” It was much faster and more intense than I had ever experienced before. I was forced to believe in myself and my abilities, but also to adapt quickly. I really learned how to be confident in myself and I am very grateful for that experience.”

Off the pitch, it must have been quite the change swapping the bustle of a major Italian urban centre for the French countryside?

“It was definitely a change, but one I enjoy. I am not a big-city girl to begin with, so I enjoy living in Angouleme. The most difficult part is trying to learn a new language. French is hard, even with the little I remember from school. But it’s always a cool experience to live in different types of cities and experience the different culture those cities bring.”

How has the transition been for you moving to a more established league in Division 1 feminine? What are some of the tactical differences that you’ve experienced?

“It has been really challenging for me actually. The French league for women, in my opinion, is the best in the world currently. I missed the first half of the season due to problems with paperwork, so my first real game for ASJ Soyaux was against Lyon. This was a huge step up from just having been in training sessions up until that point.

“Lyon are the current Champions League winners and have some of the best players in the world. They are physically and technically on another level. It was cool to experience that and see what the next level looks like. Compared to my team in Italy we work more on tactics here. I think it is very important in this league because the players are extremely smart, so we will rely on our team tactics to help us. It’s not enough to be just a quality player in this league. It takes the whole team to win games, so team tactics are really a main focus.”

ASJ Soyaux have an important run of games in the next few weeks, including matches against Issy FF and Stade de Reims — both in similar positions as Soyaux. What needs to happen in order for your team to capitalize on these opportunities to move up the league table?

“The table is really close, so we still have opportunities to win games. I think these games will be a good challenge for our team but are not out of reach by any means. I think we just need to focus one game at a time. Win this weekend, then prepare for the next match. It is still a long season and we don’t want to have to rely on certain teams losing for us to remain safe in the league. We have the potential to be a very successful side, we just need to put all of our assets together on the field and show up every single day. Being the underdog could work in our favour, it gives us chances to catch teams off guard and steal some points.”

Division 1 feminine has been fantastic for the growth of Canadian international defenders like Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence – did this play into your move at all?

“I believe it to be the top league in the world right now. Unfortunately, there is not a professional women’s league in Canada yet, so the only opportunities for us are to go overseas.

“My goal was to eventually end up in France, so I’m happy this year that I was able to achieve that goal. There are actually quite a few Canadians in the league and also in the second division here in France. I think any opportunity to play against some of the best players and best Canadians players out there will only help me to improve. It’s also cool to play against some of the home-grown players I look up to, so that alone has been an awesome experience. I think this shows other Canadian female soccer players that they can do the same. Kadeisha and Ashley are leading the way for many of us.”

What’s next in your journey? 

“I’d love to be able to answer this question, but I definitely can’t say for certain. I have goals and dreams to one day play for the Canadian national team. But for now, I’m just enjoying the experience and learning as much as I can. I’m staying focused on this season and making the most of the moment. I love playing this sport and the memories and experiences it has brought me, so I’m extremely happy I still have the opportunity to continue to play.”

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