Megan Oyster going from strength to strength in Australia's W-League
American Megan Oyster is feeling the heat.
Not altogether surprising when you consider the 24-year-old currently plies her trade in the Australian W-League for Newcastle, where the temperature is 51 degrees Celsius hotter than in her native Illinois.
When ESPN caught up with Oyster, the Hunter region in Northern NSW was sweltering as the mercury hit 37 C (99 Fahrenheit) while Chicago registered a perishingly cold reading of -14 C (9 F); but the defender is grateful for the opportunity simply to play outdoors when at home the freezing conditions make sourcing training venues a challenge.
"That was a big part of my decision," Oyster said. "The weather is so harsh back home that you have to use indoor facilities and it's sometimes a struggle to find a place to train, while out here I'm training and playing highly competitive games against some of the best."
That decision is also a boon for the Lady Jets, whose coach, Craig Deans, acknowledges Oyster's integral role in the centre of defence.
"Last year as well as this year, Megan has added a calmness and composure to our defensive structure, we've kept eight or nine clean sheets with her in the side, which is great," Deans told ESPN.
"The other thing I really like about her is that she continually wants to learn and has a good appetite for wanting to improve her game."
Deans sees the coming year as important for Oyster, a sentiment with which the player herself agrees. She will head back stateside to enter her third year in the National Women's Soccer League hoping to break into the national team having represented the United States at under-16, under-18 and under-20 levels.
"Playing for the national team is at the forefront of my goals and is something I have wanted my entire life," Oyster said.
"This year I'll be doing everything I can to get seen and hopefully be invited into a senior camp, which would be an awesome opportunity."
Oyster featured in every match for the Washington Spirit in 2015, but a change in coaching staff and a move to a more rotational system gave her fewer minutes in the most recent season. She hopes that a shift to the Boston Breakers will maximise her chance of being noticed.
Oyster agrees that the W-League is the perfect preparation for a new year in the NWSL, saying the competition "is definitely evolving and growing, it has so much potential and is a neat fit so it's become very popular in the States to come and play over here."
That's not without its own sacrifices, of course, as Oyster and a 30-strong contingent of imports in the W-League prepare to celebrate Christmas a world away from friends and family.
Oyster is philosophical and, like the others, used to the nomadic lifestyle that football demands.
"My boyfriend [former pro-baseballer Anthony Montefusco] was just out here briefly, we worked out that we live around 9500 miles apart at the moment," she said. "It makes it hard to plan but at the same time, it's an adventure.
"Christmas will be sad; I'll miss my family and friends and my boyfriend, but we've been invited to a lake house by friends of my fabulous host family so we'll get to enjoy a real Aussie Christmas."
The festive season allows only a brief hiatus, though, as Oyster and her team work on getting the Lady Jets through to the finals for the first time since the W-League's inaugural 2008-09 season. With a favourable draw to end the year, featuring only sides below them on the table, the Lady Jets could find themselves back in playoff contention as 2017 rolls round.
Oyster believes the Jets are on the right track.
"We've had one more year together now, the girls are learning quickly with every week that goes by," she added. "The focus is definitely finals and while we are looked at as an underdog -- I think we own that -- we will continue to get better and we will be competitive."
ESPN Australia/New Zealand columnist Stephanie Brantz has spent the past 20 years excelling in the coverage of football and women's sport.