Kearny’s Paisley Athletic FC completes first USL-W season, creates new opportunities for women’s soccer

It was only nine years ago when Jennifer Pettigrew Tuesta had graduated from Seton Hall University and found her options to continue playing competitive soccer nearly non-existent.

Now ,as the General Manager of Paisley Athletic FC, the Kearny native and one-time Team USA U-17 goalkeeper is helping make sure that young female soccer players don’t have to face the same dilemma as she did.

“Even at my level, there weren’t any options,” Tuesta said. “There was nothing really, especially local. There were teams out there, but it was so limited that no one knew about them and no awareness.

“It’s just more opportunities for more people to play.”

This spring and summer, Paisley Athletic FC, which is based out of Kearny, completed its inaugural season in the USL-W, a pre-professional league with 59 teams located across the country. The W League is the second highest league under the umbrella of the United Soccer League which, along with the NWSL, are the two top women’s soccer leagues in the country.

Playing its home games at Harvey Field in Kearny, Paisley Athletic FC went 1-6-5 in its first season in the new league, finishing sixth out of eight teams in the Metropolitan Division. The previous two years, Paisley was a part of the UWS, which was a lower level pro-am league.

“I think the Super League will supplement (the NWSL) too because there’s just more opportunities. There’s more than 300 people here in the US who can play soccer after college,” said Tuesta, who retired from playing last winter after playing the previous two years with Paisley. “It’s good to see these opportunities continuing to be created because the talent is there, the demand is there. The investment is getting there so I think now is as good a time as ever to make these moves.”

Coached by current Kearny High School girls coach Michael Sylvia, this year’s roster had plenty of local talent, including Skyler Matusz, who is Kearny High School’s career scoring leader and currently plays at Seton Hall. Others with local ties include former Nutley standouts Victoria Kealy and Natalie Melillo, North Arlington native Arianna Silva and recent North Arlington graduate Arancha Antunes, who will be playing at Manhattan in the fall.

Some of them got their start with the legendary Kearny Thistle United program, which has had youth girls soccer programs for five decades.

“Some of them have been involved since they were five years old. What we’re trying to do now with the club is that we still want to be a community-based club,” said Mike Mara, who is Paisley Athletic’s Co-Founder and the Kearny Thistle United President. “We still want to create opportunities for the kids locally that want to play the game at different levels. We want to retain our highest-level players by making sure the environment’s right.”

In order to do that, Kearny Thistle United and Paisley Athletic announced this spring their plans to expand their Girls Academy in the U13-U18 age groups.

Paisley’s U-19 team recently made it to the President’s Cup National Final as it showed the talent is around locally to compete at the highest level.

“The talent is here in Kearny and I think we have a lot of the right pieces in place. I think the U-19 team and Paisley Academy shows that there’s a demand here, there’s talent and I’m really excited about what we’re building as a whole, especially on the girls side. I want players to have the opportunity to stay with Thistle throughout their career because we’re really taking this to a high level now.”

For as much as it has already grown in a short period of time, but Tuesta and Mara envision further growth within the program – at all age levels in the years to come.

“I think on our end, we’re a small, but mighty operation right now,” said Tuesta. “We have a couple of people that really care a lot about the growth of the game and the mission of Paisley-Thistle and the rich history of the town.

“Our goal is to work with people who are invested in the game and looking to grow it as much as we are to make this as big as we possibly can. Ultimately, it’s about creating the opportunities for the next generation and making sure they have a place to play.”

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)