Upon stepping off the plane at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the brutal heat assaults the senses.

Over the summer, Phoenix had a 31-day streak of highs at or above 110 degrees. Cambridge, England, where ASU womens soccer player Emilie Simpson is from, has exceeded 104 degrees Fahrenheit once in recorded history.

The heat is obviously insane, Simpson said.

Simpson is one of many elite international womens soccer players who make the decision to come to the desert and ply their trade for ASU, often from places with drastically different cultures and climates.

Players come from countries as far away as Germany, Norway and Japan, playing in temperatures theyve never experienced before.

Theyre recruited from some of the top academies in the world. Simpson previously played for the Arsenal U21s (statistically the most successful club in English womens soccer) and many have starred for their youth national teams. Forward Gabi Rennie played for New Zealand at the recent Womens World Cup.

Its a commonly trod path for overseas players. Of the teams that made the 2022 NCAA Division I Womens Soccer College Cup, ASU had the third largest contingent of international players with 13.

However, this is not the case in mens soccer.

If a man plays soccer, you dont really need an education because the money is that much more, especially in Norway and Europe, ASU midfielder Ella Opkvitne said. Its getting better, but its not that good.

Traditional mens soccer powers in Europe and South America underfunded womens soccer for years. The average salary in the Womens Super League was reported to be $57,800 a year, less than the average English Premier League player makes in a week ($73,800 a week).

Often due to poorer compensation, playing careers are shorter in womens soccer. There is more of a need to find a career outside of soccer in the womens game than in the mens game.

Many athletes are attracted to ASU by the prospect of a free university education alongside playing high-level soccer, allowing for better job prospects after their playing careers are over.

Opkvitne was previously at a sports school in Norway, but there wasnt a way for her to combine high-level soccer and education after she graduated high school, something that coming to ASU allowed her to do.

Furthermore, Title IX ensured that the sport has been well-funded in America since the 1970s, while the rest of the world lagged behind. For decades America has had some of the best soccer facilities in the world via the collegiate system.

The facilities are much better, Opkvitne said. Its much more professional than what Im used to. We have a training pitch and a game pitch. We have people doing things for us like bringing us water, doing our laundry, stuff like that. We didnt have that back in Norway. Its much more professional and even the facilities are bigger and better.

Moving more than 5,000 miles to play soccer is a significant step, but for many its a necessary one on the path to playing professionally.

At the collegiate level, athletes compete for playing time with similarly developing players, whereas at professional teams theyre often competing with players who have already finished developing.

Lucy Johnson, a Sun Devils defender, played for Womens Championship side Leicester City as a teenager, but chose ASU as she thought it was better for her development.

I wanted a chance to develop further first and I think like three and a half years here gives you a chance to further develop so that when you do want to play professionally, youre more ready, Johnson said. I can compete better here than what I would be able to back at Leicester because there were women that were far better than me when I was 16.

Transitioning from the academy to the first team is a tricky process, and often youth players get overlooked in favor of more experienced players. Playing for a top academy is no guarantee of success.

Especially after the U21s if you were to move on to the first team, the likelihood of even playing is so slim, especially at a club like Arsenal where they have so much money, Simpson said. They can just go and get someone who is experienced. They wont take a punt on someone in the academy.

College soccer often serves as a bridge between academy soccer and professional soccer, and it is a well-established pipeline. Four players who graduated from ASU last year Alexia Delgado, Nicole Douglas, Eva van Deursen and Olivia Nguyen are now playing professionally.

Those who do get opportunities to play professionally at a younger age are not well compensated.

Most of these girls can go play professionally at 18, ASU coach Graham Winkworth said. But then they go and make next to no money and then by the time theyre 23, they realize (they) dont have a degree. So these girls, theyll be 23, theyll have a degree and then they can still go and play professionally and once their playing career is over theyll have a degree to fall back on.

Playing for ASU allows international players to develop further before turning professional and gives them opportunities to work outside of soccer after their playing career ends.

Ive had emails from players that chose to go directly to the pros, and they were like, Oh, I wished Id come to you first, Winkworth said.