<
>

Everton's Hayley Raso isn't letting robbery derail her Wembley dream

play
Natalie Portman explains her ambitions for Angel City FC (1:20)

Actress Natalie Portman talks about her role in founding Angel City FC and how Abby Wambach inspired her. (1:20)

Just one week out from her appearance in the 50th Women's FA Cup final, Everton and Australia star Hayley Raso received the shocking news that her family home on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia had been burgled.

A local news bulletin reported that thieves had made off with the family jewellery, a laptop and Raso's Matildas team bags, containing not only national team kit but also memorabilia, including specially made limited edition watches. While Raso said it's hard being so far from home at times like this, the Liverpool-based winger is relieved that her family is okay.

It's a lot to have on her mind in the run up to the final against FA Cup holders Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on Sunday but she isn't letting it get in the way of her preparations.

"I was speaking to some of the girls and they had said to me that players play for so long and want to get to Wembley and my first season here I'm already going so I'm honoured. I'm so excited and I just can't wait to get out there" Raso told ESPN.

Everton have not lifted the trophy since 2010, when an extra-time goal (scored by Raso's former Melbourne Victory teammate Natasha Dowie) gave the Toffees a 3-2 victory over Arsenal and the side have every intention of returning the trophy to Merseyside this year.

"Yes it's a goal of ours. From the start we wanted to get to the FA Cup final, so we're taking it one step at a time and preparing in the right way but at the same time it's in the back of your mind that at the end of that game we want to be lifting that trophy -- we want to win at Wembley," she said.

- Stream FC Daily on ESPN+

Despite sitting five points clear of City in the league, they are not underestimating the challenge posed by their star-studded opponents after a 3-1 defeat to them in the Continental Cup just three weeks ago.

"Obviously we know that Manchester City are a really tough side and it will be a physical game but we are going out there to give it our all and to win it," Raso said.

While Everton have made a flying start to the Women's Super League season, they are in second place behind Arsenal, their last clash against Brighton did not go to plan. However, Raso is circumspect about the controversial 2-2 draw which saw Brighton's Kayleigh Green given a yellow card twice but not sent off, denying Everton the chance to chase three points against 10 players.

"It was just one of those games. I don't think we played to our potential either which didn't help and then there was some wild refereeing but that was out of our control, you know, it was just left to the officials and the coach to sort out after the game.

"It was a bit disappointing for us, we have such high expectations of ourselves and we should have got more out of that game."

The FA Cup final will be just her sixth appearance in an Everton shirt but Raso has already proved that she fits right in, justifying the 233-day delay in her debut.

"I was in touch with Willie Kirk a lot toward the end of last year and started following the league and was very interested in the WSL. Then after chatting with him and hearing his ambitions for the club and speaking to Tim Cahill about Everton as a whole, it was just something I could see myself doing.

"I signed for the club in January, then when I was set to come over the first time I broke my nose in an Olympic qualifying game. I had surgery and was set to come over again after that but when I got here, after four days, everything closed down because of COVID-19 and I went home. So it was nine months before I made my debut."

It was definitely worth the wait, with the lifestyle and the football suiting her perfectly.

"To come over here where I feel like everyone lives and breathes football, everyone's talking about it, everyone's watching the men play -- I've really been relishing living in this football culture and just playing and training every day," she said.

"COVID-19 over here in Liverpool at the moment is quite bad. They are basically in Tier 3 lockdown which basically means we shouldn't be out and about. With football, we're in this bubble world which is great, so we're able to go in and do our job every day and then go home, but for other people I'm sure it's a lot more difficult so I'm very grateful that we have football at the moment."

This is Raso's first stint in England and follows a decade of club football in Australia and the United States. Adapting to the different style of play is a challenge she is relishing with her trademark pace a dangerous weapon for Willie Kirk's side.

"In America they are very athletic while over here it's more technical which I like. I think it's good for me to broaden my game in that sense," she added. "But also the league here is very physical. After playing here a few games I've noticed it's very rough so that's taken some getting used to.

"I like the way Willie [Kirk] coaches, I'm really enjoying playing under him and I feel like I'm learning a lot from him so far.

"I think I'm physical myself so I think that works, but the game's also fast paced which I like, so far I'm really enjoying it and I think I have a lot to learn and a lot more I can develop. I'm strong at the moment and I'm fit, so no complaints from me."

That in itself is a huge achievement, given just two years ago she was in hospital after fracturing three vertebrae wondering if she would even be able to walk again. However, it's clear Raso has hit a purple patch in her career.

The only thing missing this year is her connection with the supporters. After becoming a fan favourite in her four years at Portland Thorns, the bubbly 26-year-old said she's looking forward to the time she can personally meet the Everton faithful.

"It's so different. You normally go out to a game, you have all the fans there and you can take time after the game to give your time back to them and spend time meeting them. For me it's been a little bit different coming in as a new player and not being able to make that connection with the fan base but there is social media and I'm hoping that soon the fans will be able to come back into the stadium and I'll be able to meet them," she added.

That day looks to be a while off yet but in the meantime Raso is confident her biggest fans, her family, will be glued to the screen 16,000 kilometres away when she steps onto the field at Wembley Stadium. Regardless of the result, it will be a bright spot for them in a week that started in such a horrible fashion.

"My family watch whatever time the game is on and they'll definitely be up watching the FA Cup final," Raso said. "They are very excited and very proud at the same time."