Lexi Missimo interview: Generation Lex – Texas sensation is next on the bill

Photo courtesy of The University of Texas Athletics

There was nothing ordinary about the season Alexis Missimo just had, with intrigue at exactly where the University of Texas maestro will turn pro now set to run for one final year. If that decision has been approached with consummate consideration, there was one sought-after spot she couldn’t wait to make hers recently – at least, that was the plan…

Lexi Missimo stylishly dismantling an opposing backline is a sight coming to a large-scale venue near you in the future. Already a Longhorn legend, the number ten lighting it up in burnt orange has been regarded as a red-hot prospect in American soccer for some time.

January brought the confirmation that she will be sticking around in 2024 for her senior year, set on following up a record-shattering season. November 17th brought her 26th goal – a feat no Texas player has managed before – to seal UT’s place in the NCAA Tournament round of 16 and equal the best run in program history.

Celebrating a 2-1 win over Wisconsin in Tallahassee, Florida, there was nowhere she would rather have been that night. Honestly…she swears.

“Morgan Wallen, I recently bought tickets for him (in Austin), but we were in play-offs so I had to sell them, and I was just so sad,” she laughs. “Obviously, I was more excited about the play-offs!”

“But I was so sad. I paid good money for those tickets, too, and I was like, ‘This is it, I’m gonna be seeing one of my favourite artists!’”

Being with her team to cherish another highlight of their season was hardly the worst alternative. Her goals aside, Lexi had also laid on 20 for teammates, becoming the first in Big 12 Conference history to hit the 20-mark in both, and the first to lead the conference in every offensive statistical category.

The accolades flowed almost as freely as her on-field production. A semi-finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s highest individual award, there was surprise from some that her season’s efforts did not take her even further in the running, but she continues to carry a broader focus on what lies in store.

One last Texas two-step is in the offing, as they bid to surpass their Sweet 16 appearance. Entrusted with lighting the fuse again on game day will be the goalkeeper named Most Outstanding Defensive Player in their triumphant Big 12 Championship campaign, as Lexi took the Offensive Player honour.

“The team DJ is Mia Justus, our goalkeeper, and she plays pretty good music, we all like it. Before the games, we all try to get hyped and pumped-up for the opponent, so we usually just play songs that maybe I shouldn’t say on this interview!

“I like listening to songs before games that have meaning to what I’m about to do.”

She picks out ‘Live is Life’ by 80s Austrian band Opus, a song that was somewhat immortalised by Diego Maradona’s dance-infused warm-up as it blared from the stadium speakers before a game for Napoli. Lexi would not be the first player to approach kick-off with hopes of emulating the Argentina icon’s on-field elasticity, but what mode of pre-game focus tends to work best for her?

“I’ll start off being serious, and then I’m thinking to myself ‘wait a minute, this is supposed to be fun; you can just take it off the edge a little bit and just relax.’ And then I get more into just having fun with my teammates.”

With their entire starting team returning this year, it means an extended collaboration with best friend Trinity Byars, her attacking partner in crime, fellow All-American, and another MAC Hermann Trophy semi-finalist. The pair’s oft-cited connection dates back to their formative years at Solar Soccer Club, the successful side formerly coached by Lexi’s father Derek, and once featuring Angel City forward Messiah Bright and new U.S. Women’s National Team hotshot Jaedyn Shaw.

Another notable former player is Lexi’s older sister Gabriella, a University of Texas midfielder in 2019 before focusing on her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Today, she works at Baylor Scott & White Health as a labour delivery nurse, or, in her words – ‘birthday specialist.’

Gabby also provided the soundtrack for one of Lexi’s best-loved tournament memories.

“I would say music was a big part of my life for away trips. My sister is really big on music; she made a playlist that I’ll never forget.

“It was like 15 seconds of the best parts of each song and it was before we won the 2019 nationals (the Girls Development Academy National Championship), and I will never forget that playlist.”

Away from the action, the Big 12 Conference Midfielder of the Year switches it up.

“I’m a big country person. I recently got into it because my boyfriend’s a big country guy, so he’s put me on to a lot of good songs.

“My favourite is Parker McCollum, for sure.”

Minus the trucker hat and guitar, Lexi has more than a touch of showstopping energy herself. It may not be The Grand Ole Opry that gets to house her talent, but it is hard to envisage anything other than rocking stadiums in her future.

Her time representing the U.S. at youth level, from U-14 to 23s, has been a multi-national voyage encompassing a dozen countries to date. After another demanding collegiate season (alongside academic life, as a physical culture and sports major), she was speaking here from back home in Southlake, Texas, unwinding during the holidays.

“This room right now, this was my childhood home; my parents definitely renovated it, so it’s kind of not even my room any more! But this feels like home to me.

“Seeing my lifelong friends from high school feels like home; I’m still really good friends with them today. Just everything about this neighbourhood feels like home, because everyone in Southlake kind of knows each other.”

Although there is still plenty of her life that is yet to dramatically alter, at least some of it has.

“It’s definitely changed now, but back in the day, One Direction was my thing,” she laughs. “My first ever concert was Pink; I loved her.”

“I know all her music to this day. It was a really fun concert; I went with my lifelong friends.”

Graduating a year early from high school, her Texas career began with a bang, serving up a goal and two assists on her competitive debut (a 4-0 win against Texas State in March 2021). Another early performance from the Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year was not so note-perfect.

She recalls her initiation song on the team bus.

“Yes, sadly, I had to do that, and I’m not a singer! I think I sang an Adele song, and it was just not good, to say the least.”

Back in her natural domain, she recently contributed to one of Texas’ most successful seasons. Ahead of switching from the Big 12 to SEC (Southeastern Conference) next time around, their record of 17 wins was the most since 2006, and just one off their single-season record.

While their NCAA Tournament efforts were ended by a championship-bound Florida State, Texas had been celebrating their own success little over a fortnight earlier. Shortly after the Big 12 Championship game, Lexi and her teammates were dancing under the burnt-orange confetti in Round Rock.

Up against Brecken Mozingo’s free-scoring BYU, the number-four pick in the recent NWSL Draft (by Utah Royals) was on target, but a double from Lexi and a Holly Ward goal secured a 3-1 victory. While another important step in their season at the time, it also provided the kind of golden snapshot of teammates and friends that can be treasured long after they bid farewell to the Forty Acres.

Should they ever try to daringly diversify their talents together, by way of the recording studio, which Longhorns would Lexi call upon first for a cover-song collaboration?

“I would say Trinity (Byars) or Jilly Shimkin. If I did it with Trinity, she would probably want a completely different artist to me; she would want Rod Wave, that’s her favourite.

“But for me, I would want to be doing a country song. Jilly would jump in because I’m trying to get Jilly on the country wavelength with me!”

Midfielder Shimkin is another of the returning seniors, set to be joined this year by younger sister Chloe. Lexi also gets to continue her lethal link-up with the aforementioned Trinity Byars, who became Texas’ all-time leading scorer (47) this past season.

Together, they racked up the most points by a D1 duo (122), and the joint-highest goal tally (44, level with Nebraska’s Eleanor Dale and Sarah Weber). Their All-American recognition by United Soccer Coaches in December also marked the first time that Texas have had multiple recipients since 2006.

Just a day apart in age (with Trinity older), the pair had 21st birthdays to celebrate this week. Having played together since five years old, they certainly know the best of each other by now, but what about their worst off-field habits?

Lexi lifts the lid, and is also asked what she believes Trinity’s response would be.

“I would say this…when we go out to a dinner, and she doesn’t have an outfit to wear, she will not be going! So, she has to make sure her outfit is perfect, and it bothers a lot of people, because it does not matter!

“She would probably say I bite my nails; I’m really bad at biting my nails, I don’t know what it is. She is, too, though, so I can say that about her!

“She would also say I’m messy, even though I’m not that messy.”

Trinity’s mother Agatha has previously spoken in glowing terms of the guidance offered by Lexi’s father Derek during the Solar SC years, not just for Trinity, but her four sisters who would also play. Lexi and Trinity continue to share status as headline prospects, with both having drawn international-club interest in recent years.

For Lexi, a pair of trials with Manchester City in 2019 was followed in January 2023 with time at Women’s Super League champions Chelsea, while Arsenal are another leading club to have expressed interest. Her stint with City came alongside the likes of Keira Walsh and Caroline Weir (now of Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively), as well as Ellen White, joint-top scorer in that year’s World Cup.

Recalling her glimpse into England’s North West, she highlights a fellow midfielder and recent World Cup finalist, and their unexpected reunion in Texas.

“I was so young but I remember it like it was yesterday. The biggest motivator and my biggest influence, and I look up to her today, is Georgia Stanway; she’s still so sweet.

“After Man City, she came to Dallas, I think for a camp that she had with the England national team (for the 2020 SheBelieves Cup). We went to Galleria – it’s like this mall where you go ice skating – we were eating at the Mexican restaurant and I was just catching up with her.

“She was telling me all her insight on things; it was really cool. I still consider her a person I really look up to.”

Left to right: Derek Missimo, Georgia Stanway, Lexi Missimo and Susan Missimo.

One crucial component on Lexi’s side is the work ethic that makes her the farthest thing from a luxury player; the purposeful passing, strong spatial awareness, and cultured finishing also help just a little. As well as the Italian surname, her father’s side also includes English heritage, with Lexi’s grandmother born in Bournemouth, and extended family living in London.

Playing in the WSL is her ‘dream scenario,’ but considering that her father holds a UK passport, and she would be eligible to play internationally for England, the current obstacles to starting her club career there almost seem comical. The GBE (Governing Body Endorsement) now required for overseas players takes 24 points from separate categories to attain, often precluding those not coming from a league deemed ‘Band 1’ (top tiers from England, France, Germany, USA, Spain, Sweden and Netherlands), with fewer points subsequently on offer.

Whether it proves to be the long way around to realising that ambition or not, the WSL is naturally just one of the options being explored, as Lexi explains.

“Definitely all of it is in consideration. It’s just hard to play in England because of the 24-point rule, so you would have to play in the NWSL, or if you go (to the WSL), you would have to get loaned to somewhere like Switzerland or Sweden.

“That’ll be in the future, but ultimately, nothing’s out of the question, everything’s up for grabs.”

Interest from the top level in England is actually not a new Missimo experience. Having represented the U.S. in the inaugural FIFA U-16 World Championship (later to become the U-17 World Cup) in China in 1985, Derek had a trial offer from Sheffield Wednesday two years later at 17, but would follow his parents’ wishes to attain a college degree.

While he did not get to try his hand at a club that later found its American star in John Harkes, he went on to enjoy a legendary career at the University of North Carolina. His 56 goals put him as all-time top scorer, and the Tar Heels’ male counterpart to the iconic Mia Hamm, with both playing for UNC coaching great Anson Dorrance.

Although coaching his daughters had never been the plan – Derek only agreed after being asked by the team’s manager, when Gabby was seven and they needed a winter coach – the countless hours of tutelage are the cornerstone to the Lexi seen today, she believes.

“I don’t think I’d be where I am without him. The biggest thing he’s taught me was no matter what happens, just to keep playing, because you’re going to get another opportunity.

“Another thing he says: your voice is your play. Awards can go to anyone, people have different opinions, but he also just says, ‘Make it hard for them not to choose you.’”

There is one more attacking ace in the family, with Lexi’s mother Susan a forward-thinking midfield talent during a four-year Texas Christian University (TCU) career in the ‘90s. On Lexi’s own path, does she remember a point where the conversation shifted from simply playing the game, to people also discussing her future within it?

“Honestly, I’ve been so competitive my whole life, and it hasn’t changed. The love for the game, I still feel like that.

“I’m just playing each game like a pickup game, that’s what I told myself this season, but I think it got more serious when I made my first national-team camp. It was funny because all the girls still talk about it today; we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

“We knew it was a big deal but we didn’t know this is going to be our life for the next five-plus years. It’s a cool journey.”

Named in the Best XI at the 2022 Concacaf Women’s U-20 Championship, she (and Trinity) featured alongside current senior internationals Alyssa Thompson and Olivia Moultrie. With all intentions of following suit in the years to come, Lexi has further international-tournament know-how close by, in Texas head coach Angela Kelly.

Part of Canada’s midfield at the 1995 World Cup (and another former UNC star), she is a central reason why Lexi has wanted to stick around.

“Texas means everything to me. We definitely took a unique route, Trinity and I, we could have gone to UNC, Florida State, the schools that typically win a national championship, but we wanted to go a different route because we wanted to be the first to go ‘we did this ourselves, no one else did this besides us.’

“Ange Kelly, she’s like family to me. She’s not just a coach to me, she’s more of a person that cares about you off the field, and that’s what I really care about most.”

Sitting on 44 goals, she embarks upon next season as the active assist leader in NCAA D1 women’s soccer (51). While she did not play high-school soccer, continuing to paint her own corner of Southlake Carroll’s sporting legacy is another piece of identity she holds dear.

She cites some of the other names to excel at UT via that route: Hailey Hernandez (diver at the Tokyo Olympics), Asjia O’Neal (Pro Volleyball Federation’s recent number-one draft pick), and Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers.

In her own field, illuminating a game is second nature by now; getting used to everyday spotlight just might take a little longer.

“We do autographs after the games, but it’s great when you go to a random store and people are like, ‘Are you Lexi? Can we get a photo with you?’ ‘Yeah, of course.’

“I don’t really know how to respond, because I’m just going to Target and people are coming up – I’m just trying to get my groceries! But yeah, it definitely means a lot.”

Big-league bound (and Texas forever).

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