In her debut season of professional soccer, Chicago Red Stars forward Sofia Huerta has got to grips with the big league in commendable fashion, and one player who can relate to how she has felt as a newcomer in 2015 is somebody she has always been in step with.
Genuine talent is sprinkled all around women’s soccer at collegiate level in the U.S. although even for the leading lights, making an impact after turning pro is anything but a formality. In the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the College Draft is a keenly anticipated and observed event, with the league’s nine teams vying for the nation’s best emerging players.
At this year’s number 11 pick overall, Chicago Red Stars secured a forward who has proved to be one of the gems of the season so far. Coming out of Santa Clara University, Sofia Huerta has netted six goals for the high-flying Red Stars and made league history as the very first recipient of back-to-back Player of the Week awards.
Also named the NWSL Player of the Month for May, the 22-year-old was a big reason why Chicago remained in the leading places despite having so many of their players away for the FIFA World Cup. One of those to return from National Team glory in Canada to the Red Stars was defender Julie Johnston, who sat down to explore this site’s mixed concept of music and soccer, and much more besides, in depth last year.
She is someone Sofia has played with since she was just 14, as a teammate in the Olympic Development Program and later at Santa Clara. ‘JJ’ had told Chicago coach Rory Dames all about how suitable Sofia was for the Red Stars and she spoke of her excitement when they drafted the attacking starlet, outlining her shot power and speed, as well as the on-field chemistry they shared.
Another of those Sofia had a strong connection with in college is also featuring in the NWSL for the first time this year and the Idaho native recalls how she and the Portland Thorns number 20 liked to express themselves, through their play of course, but also with their singing!
“In college, it was definitely myself and my best friend Sarah Jackson, who is an amateur player for Portland. In Chicago, I would say probably Alyssa Mautz!”
Midfielder/forward Mautz’ association with the Red Stars goes back to their 2012 WPSL-Elite season and she has often been mentioned on here by teammates for her singing, with Adriana Leon’s techno track choices and Melissa Tancredi’s dance moves also coming up in those interviews. Just like there are players who seem to effortlessly light up games with their skill, there are those in women’s soccer who can sparkle with their vocal talent. Equally, there are some who might not pass a judges’ panel for their song delivery, but they compensate with their entertainment factor!
One supposed example is Red Stars goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, who has been singled out in that regard on here by the likes of Portland Thorns midfielder and Sofia’s ex-Santa Clara colleague, Mana Shim, while the aforementioned Julie Johnston said she’d be one of the teammates she would record a song cover with if she had to choose. When Sofia was asked if she has ever been one to sing for her fellow players in her career so far, she confirmed she is another of those who will give it all she has, regardless of the resulting sound!
“Yes! I mean, I wish I could sing so bad, so I am always willing to sing in front of people.
“I am definitely not shy, I’ll sing anything.”
Although she was raised in Boise, Idaho, Sofia’s father Mauricio comes from Puebla. She has dual U.S. / Mexican citizenship and represented ‘El Tricolor’ at the 2012 Under-20 World Cup, scoring one goal in each of the three group games before the quarter-final exit to Nigeria after extra-time.
Getting the chance to spend time in Mexico itself, as well as Argentina and South Korea, ahead of the tournament in Japan, Sofia had a good understanding of Spanish but wasn’t fluent, so being with the team let her get much more immersed in the culture. Also turning out for the senior side on a number of occasions, she still remains eligible for the U.S.
With her college days in California and a spell with Seattle Sounders in the W-League also to her name, Sofia explains how music has travelled along with her through the early pages of her soccer story.
“I think music has always been such a huge part of my life. No matter what I’m doing, listening to music always brings so much joy and happiness.
“I’m a big fan of country but I would say my favourite music would be hip hop/r&b.”
Winning six Idaho State Championships with Les Bois United as a teenager, Sofia was named the Co-West Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2014, scoring 17 goals as Broncos co-captain (with goalkeeper Andi Tostanoski) in her senior year at Santa Clara. Originally recruited as a defender, the two-time All-American drew much praise from coach Jerry Smith, who said that she deserved to be picked as one of the best players at the NWSL College Draft.
In her junior and senior years, Sofia started to really see a possible future as a pro player, although it could all have been so different. When she told people she knew back home that she was going to Santa Clara she was shocked to find they hadn’t heard of it, leading her to question her choice and even tell Jerry Smith she wanted to go to Stanford!
The hugely experienced Smith was however able to allay her concerns, and he was also the one who told her she needed to relax more before games, which resulted in Sofia turning to slow country music to mellow her mood on game day. Her collegiate form was impressive and the progression has undoubtedly carried on as a first-year pro, but which teammates have presided over the pre-game sound system in the locker room scenarios she has been part of?
“Well in college our locker room DJ was whoever wanted to give up their phone before the game. I know that’s so bad, but seriously.
“If I had to pick one person in college it was probably Kat McAuliffe. She always had the best music and she always knew my favourite songs.
“Now with the Red Stars, our trainer Cherlyne (Carlos) always is the DJ. She definitely has the best music!”
Selected as the second pick of the draft’s second round, Sofia was with the Red Stars from the beginning of pre-season. Along with fellow rookies Arin Gilliland and Danielle Colaprico, she signed her contract officially in early April and her play since has spoken for itself.
If however one day she was to suddenly decide it was the studio instead of the soccer field for her, and she wanted to take a player with her into this new career, who would it be and which song would they cover?!
“I would chose Sarah Jackson and we would sing ‘Sunday Morning’ by Maroon 5.”
That track was released back in 2004, by which time Sofia had built up a good background of music listening, so what about the first material she ever had? These she recalls could also be some interesting back-up choices for her and Sarah Jackson’s cover version!
“Oh that’s a tough one to remember. If I had to guess, I think my first CD must have been either Britney Spears, Aaron Carter or the Hanson brothers – great memories.”
A four-year varsity soccer player at Centennial High School, where she scored 126 goals and had 47 assists, Sofia also swam, played basketball and ran track while growing up. As a junior, she led the basketball team in points, assists and steals, as well as becoming the 2011 Idaho State Champion in 100m hurdles.
In the 300m hurdles, she was a three-time state champion and set a school record for the event. She headed south west for college and has since moved on to the big city with her switch to Chicago, but Boise remains home, back in Idaho.
As this is a UK-based site (hence the spellings like ‘favourite’!), Sofia was asked for her version of what life is like in her home city in America’s northwest.
“Boise is a semi-big city that has a small-town feel. Everyone knows everyone, especially in the soccer world.
“Boise has all four seasons and people are always doing activities. People spend a lot of time outside and are very active, and everyone is very nice!
“I love the four seasons the most about Boise!”
The six strikes Sofia has come up with this season put her in the upper reaches of NWSL scorers and only Christen Press has more for the Red Stars in 2015, with eight. She started to receive greater attention in May as she hit a double and also provided an assist for Cara Walls in the 3-0 win over Boston Breakers at Toyota Park, following that up in the next game with another two goals to salvage a point from 2-0 down, away to Houston Dash.
Also hitting the target in the 2-1 win at FC Kansas City and the 3-1 loss away to Western New York, Sofia’s strike rate makes good reading but as always there is far more than statistics to the story. In addition to her Chicago teammates, she has friends around the league who know what it is like to adapt to life as a pro player, including Mexico and Boston Breakers defender Bianca Sierra, for example.
With just three matches remaining in the regular season, the Red Stars are in 3rd place, level on points with Washington Spirit in 2nd and five points behind leaders Seattle Reign, who have risen to the summit for the second season running. Numerous games across the league have sold out during the campaign and crowd figures and all-round excitement have been buoyed further by the returning World Cup players.
The Red Stars have enjoyed some sell-out attendances and have had captain Lori Chalupny, defender Julie Johnston and forward Christen Press back in recent weeks after their National Team triumph, while another member of that victorious U.S. side, midfielder Shannon Boxx, recently announced the end of her excellent career. There is also goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc and forwards Adriana Leon and Melissa Tancredi, who returned from their participation with Canada, while New Zealand defender and captain Abby Erceg is also back in league action.
Rory Dames’ side are looking in a healthy position with two of their last three games at home as they bid to seal their first appearance in the playoffs at the third attempt after missing out only due to their head-to-head record with Washington in 2014.
Leading up to her pro debut against Seattle in April, Sofia expressed how she wanted to prove she could play in the NWSL and use that to measure her capabilities of making the USWNT in the future. For any player in the league, it is not a case of just showing up to games and practice sessions, with often new off-field surroundings to fit into, as well as any number of other factors to take into account.
The goals have certainly been cause for a lot of happiness and that has gone together with how Sofia has found the Windy City so far.
“Chicago is absolutely amazing. Everyone in Chicago is so nice and the city has so much history behind it.
“Every time I walk around in the city, I see something new or learn something unexpected.”
A communications major, Sofia was an EYEBRONCO reporter at Santa Clara, so she has experienced being on the other side in interviews. One of her other interest areas outside of soccer lets people know even more about her character and personal values.
“I’m super passionate about animals but especially dogs. I am the biggest dog lover on this planet.
“I volunteer for The Humane Society and would love to find something in the future that could allow me to help animals or dogs who are in need.”
Further notable contributions from Sofia in the weeks to come could prove pivotal in Chicago’s season. However, she is required to give just one more here and that is to do some team selection with a difference.
For each music/soccer interview on here, the player is asked to picture themselves in a 5-a-side game and to choose four of their teammates from any time in their career to complete their line-up. The rule is not that it has to be the outright best group they have ever worked with, so it is the player’s choice with regard to why they make each selection.
Sofia’s four fellow starters in this team bring undeniable personality, with experience, solidity and creativity also accounted for. Just think of the subs she could bring on later in the game!
“(Goalkeeper) Karina LeBlanc – KK is the coolest person in the world. (Defender) Michelle Lomnicki – Michelle is the nicest person on the team and also just makes me laugh.
“(Midfielder) Danny Colaprico – Danny is my closest friend on the team. We laugh about everything together.
“(Forward) Giuleana Lopez – this girl is the funniest person on our team and can make anyone laugh at any moment.”
To catch each of these interviews in future, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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Red Stars fans, you can also read Christen Press, Taryn Hemmings and Julie Johnston’s music/soccer interviews below!