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Shan has sights set on making it big in the United States.

ONE of Wales' most promising female footballers is set to return to America to further her flourishing career.

Striker Shan Jones had spent four goal-packed years starring for Middle Tennessee University in the Sun Belt Conference competition before graduating last December.

Recently she has been banging in the goals for her local club Caernarfon Town, as well as winning caps for Wales, but in May plans to relaunch her football adventures in the States with Virginia Beach Piranhas in the W-League. Since finishing her university degree four months ago, Jones has had trials for FC Twente in Holland before returning home to her native Felinheli, which led to a reunion with Women's Welsh Premier League club Caernarfon.

Scoring nine goals in two matches for the Canaries soon attracted the attention of Wales coach Jarmo Matikainen, who drafted the 22-year-old into his squad for the recent Algarve Cup.

Jones, who had already been capped for Wales in a 5-1 win against Luxembourg in 2011, came on as a sub in the 2-0 loss to Portugal and 1-0 victory over Mexico in the group stages.

"The tournament (Algarve Cup) was really professionally run," she said.

"The organisers were exceptional, the Wales staff fantastic, the facilities were great and there was a lot of interest in the tournament with the games on TV.

"It was the first time I'd been selected for Wales since I returned from the USA and it was a great experience.

"I got on really well with the coach, he's enthusiastic and knows the direction where he wants the team to go." Wales were beaten 2-0 by Portugal in the opener, then defeated Mexico, ranked in FIFA's top 25, before drawing 1-1 with Hungary to finish third in Group C. The Welsh then took on Portugal again in the play-off for 11th place and led 1-0 before the hosts levelled deep into added time. The Portuguese went on to triumph 3-1 on spot-kicks.

Jones came on in the 74th minute for Natasha Harding in the first Portugal encounter, then replaced Watford's Megan Wynne in the 80th minute against the Mexicans.

"In the first game we lost 2-0 and I wasn't happy as we played really well and didn't get the result we deserved," she added. "Going into the third match everyone was equal in the group and we could have finished higher, but we did really well as a small nation."

Jones began playing football at a very young age with the Bethel boys team before committing to Caernarfon Town ladies in her early teens.

After leaving Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen, Caernarfon, she was accepted at Middle Tennessee University to study psychology, but her footballing abilities were also to shine over four impressive years.

In her first year, she was named the Sun Belt Soccer Conference's Freshman of the Year 2008.

Her goal scoring exploits earned her selection for the All Sun Belt first team and Soccer Buzz Central Region representative side.

As a Sophomore in 2009, she was chosen for the All Sun Belt squad again and was top scorer with 11 goals for her university team, also known as the Blue Raiders. Her Junior and Senior years were also highly successful and she ended her Raiders career fourth on the all-time list with 32 goals.

With women's soccer in America so high profile, the national team having won two World Cups, four Olympic golds, six CONCACAF Gold Cups and nine Algarve Cups, Jones also feels she benefited from the considerable attention given to college competition.

"It felt like I was a pro playing there," she said. "We were flown to away games, put up in hotels, had video meetings, had top class training facilities."

After graduating, she initially tried her luck with FC Twente.

"It was a good experience but something didn't work between me and the coach," she said.

Holland's loss was Wales' gain as Jones returned to Caernarfon, who badly needed a win after losing all six games in the newly-structured national league. Jones soon delivered, scoring four goals in the Canaries' first win, a 5-3 result at Port Talbot, before the striker went nap in a 6-1 thrashing of Llandudno Junction before joining up with Wales for the Algarve Cup.

"It was a real pleasure to be back with Caernarfon, playing alongside players I used to play with and meeting a few new faces," she said.

"You can't beat being with Cofis girls, you can have a laugh with them, but they take their football seriously."

With the WWPL having gone truly national this season, Jones is optimistic about the competition's future.

"It is improving and will hopefully get better," she added. "But it needs more funding.

"It doesn't get anything like the support the English Premier (Women's Super League) gets. Clubs like Arsenal, Bristol Academy and Everton are on a totally different level."

Jones will return to America in May to play soccer and is considering advancing her studies.

The W-League is a North American women's developmental organisation, an open league which gives college players the opportunity to play alongside established internationals while maintaining their collegiate eligibility.

Jones' latest club the Piranhas play in the seven-team northeast division within the Eastern Conference.

While Team USA is a mega force in the global women's game, the top level domestic competition in the States has been far less stable.

The latest concept, the National Women's Soccer League, kicks off its first season on April 13.

The eight competing teams will include Seattle Reign, the new club of Wales skipper Jessica Fishlock.

This is third time women's pro soccer has tried to establish a lasting foothold in North America.

Nonetheless, it is a level Shan Jones wants to reach.

"My main aim is to make it in the professional game," she said with a composed determination.

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Wales and Caernarfon's Shan Jones (on the ball and below)
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Mar 26, 2013
Words:982
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