Soccer was dubbed ‘The Beautiful Game” in the era of Pele. To see Kailey Hyland play it is an excellent reminder.
The senior center-midfielder for Malverne/East Rockaway is in her fifth year of tormenting conference foes in Nassau AB6 and other programs in the county. She isn’t beating them with size or speed — how intimidating is a girl who stands just a shade over 5-feet tall? — but rather with her skills and her mind.
Hyland last month netted the astounding 100th goal of her high school career as she played in her 66th varsity game. She has piled up these goals by relying on superior footwork with the ball and a brilliance for the game that reveals how fervently she studies it.
She seems to always be in the optimal position because of her field vision. And nearly every ball off her foot — shot or pass — is where a tactician would put it.
“She has an athletic intelligence that sets her apart,” Rockin’ Mules coach Joe Lores said. “That combined with her competitiveness? She’s the one you want with the ball when the game is on the line.”
That was the case in the 2017 postseason. Malverne/East Rockaway went to overtime against Mineola. There was a corner kick late in the second overtime period and Hyland — all “five feet and one-quarter inch” she said — headed the ball into the net for the team's first-ever playoff win.
As was the case in that game, the opposition often seeks to take Hyland out of the equation with its defense. And sometimes that means the play gets pretty physical and frustrating. But she said “I sort of love the challenge. It makes me want to work 10 times as hard. It gives me motivation that they don’t want me to score.”
Hyland’s gifts for the game were apparent at a relatively early age. Lores runs a summer sports program and his son Mickey Lores, now a Suffolk County police officer, was working on soccer with a group that included Hyland. It wasn’t long before the son was telling the father “you have to see this girl — she’s ridiculous,” Lores recounted. Hyland might have been 7 at the time.
“She loved the game from the moment she started kicking a ball,” Gail Hyland, her mother said. “It was maybe her favorite thing to do, maybe all she wanted to do.”
Her passion has not abated.
Hyland has become a true student of the game, playing it in some form every day. When she’s not on a field, she likes watching the pros and top college players.
“I like to study how players position themselves on the field because I want to understand the [nuances] of the game,” she said.
“For basketball players, they’d use the term ‘gym rat’ and that’s what she is in soccer,” Lores said. “She hates to lose and just a great competitor. Is there another way to describe someone who represents about 70 percent of our scoring?”
Bill Hyland, her father, knows athletic talent when he sees it. He excelled at sports while at Holy Cross High in Queens and became a first-rate starting quarterback at Iona College. He said “I had an idea she might be this player when they started having her play against older players when she was young.”
Gail Hyland thought her daughter might be this kind of player when the varsity wanted her in eighth grade and she finished with 18 goals and eight assists.
Today she has 102 goals and 41 assists in 73 games. The equivalence is a tough one, but imagine a career 30-point scorer in basketball or a baseball player who averages more than a home run per game for his high school career. This is exceptional.
Hyland also has the gift of perspective. Many top soccer players on Long Island opt against playing for the high school team and instead play ‘Development Academy.’ It was an option for Hyland but she said “it’s not like high school soccer because this lets you play with friends and for your school.”
There are several colleges recruiting Hyland, including a handful in Division I. Someone with skills like her's — and the leadership qualities the three-year captain regularly shows with the Rockin’ Mules — commands that. She could go for one of those offers and is giving them serious consideration.
Bill Hyland, however, says it will be important for her to play as a freshman and doesn’t rule out Division II options.
“A lot of times in Division I, the freshman end up sitting until there’s an opening. All of us would like her playing instead of sitting,” he said.
“I want the real college experience,” said Hyland, who performs well in school and is enrolled in several AP courses. “I think it’s possible in Division I but I am still figuring out the right place.”
"The right place." It makes perfect sense that Hyland would be looking for that. She’s found it enough to be a 100-goal scorer. There’s no reason she wouldn’t when it comes to taking the next step in a brilliant soccer career.