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How Sofia Huerta overcame roster anxiety to seize World Cup chance

Sofia Huerta is one of 14 USWNT players making their World Cup debuts this summer. (Bob Drebin/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

It was a long time coming, but Sofia Huerta was finally content.

She’d spent years agonizing over call-ups and camps. Her career, she thought, was made or broken by whether or not she wore a United States women’s national team jersey.

Huerta played for two years on the Mexican national team before deciding to represent the U.S. instead. From 2017-18, Huerta made seven appearances for the USWNT. Then, things came to a halt.

It crushed her.

After nearly a year and a half of absences, with a global pandemic thrown in the mix, Huerta started to work with a life coach and a sports psychologist. Slowly, they built Huerta back up. Slowly, she came to see her career as a success. She hadn’t been a mainstay on the national team and she hadn’t played in a World Cup. But Sofia Huerta — from Boise, Idaho, with Mexican roots to match her last name — was a success. She had an eight-year professional soccer career to prove it.

“I needed to redefine the definition of success, and I needed to change the narrative,” she said. “Just because I’m not on the national team doesn’t mean I’m not successful. It doesn’t mean I’m not a great player.”

So as the 2023 World Cup approached and Huerta received call-ups, the process didn’t hold as much weight. The idea of playing on the USWNT was still a dream, but it no longer held her back. If she didn’t make the final roster, Huerta would be content.

“I really started working on staying present,” Huerta said. “Not thinking about the past, not thinking about the future, just thinking about today. It just makes things easier on yourself, easier on the mind.”

She’d walk her dogs and enjoy her new partnership with Lotto, an Italian sportswear company she grew up admiring and now represents as a brand ambassador for their U.S. crossover partnership with DICK’s Sporting Goods, announced Friday. She’d play for the NWSL’s OL Reign, a team she says “changed her life” when she signed with them in 2020.

“I just focused on the Reign and being the best I can be for them,” Huerta said. “Because ultimately, that is going to have me playing my best soccer, which is what would get me called up for the World Cup.”

And if she didn’t represent the United States, it would be OK. Huerta felt free knowing that.

“I’m just playing and having fun,” Huerta said a few days before the U.S. roster drop. “Because ultimately, it’s Vlatko’s decision. It’s out of my hands. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing, and hopefully, he will choose me.”

Huerta switched to outside back full-time when she got to OL Reign in 2020. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

He did.

As soon as Huerta let go, the national team came back to her. The universe is funny that way.

Huerta was selected as one of seven defenders to the 23-player World Cup roster representing the U.S. in New Zealand and Australia this summer. Outside back is not her natural position, but rather one she’s made her own through hard work and faith.

The 30-year-old started out as a forward, playing her college soccer at Santa Clara and the beginning of her NWSL career with the Chicago Red Stars and Houston Dash in the attack and midfield. But eventually, it was clear that Huerta had a knack for defense, and the USWNT had a need. If she was going to make the roster, Huerta would have to make the switch full-time.

Huerta thought she would when she was traded to Houston from Chicago in 2018. Instead, she spent most of her minutes playing midfield. Finally, when Huerta got to the Reign, she moved to defense.

Despite the chaos, constantly shuffling positions made Huerta stronger. And now with the USWNT, she is considered an irreplaceable crossing specialist.

“At this point, I have nothing to lose because I’ve been told no so many times in my career,” she said. “Being pushed out and then coming back up creates a lot of strength in itself. But I think at this point, my mentality is a lot less anxiety and a lot more excitement. I appreciate where I am as a player now.”

When the United States opens World Cup play on Friday against Vietnam, Huerta will be there, representing two communities.

The first is Idaho, and all the rural communities where kids still dream of playing soccer but don’t always have the resources to do so. Huerta was always a talented soccer player, but there were no club teams nearby, and her family couldn’t afford the big price tag that came with sending her to college showcases.

“My career has not been easy, whatsoever,” Huerta said. “I was never with youth teams. It hasn’t been linear, hasn’t been a guarantee. That’s what makes my journey so unique, and I love to be a representation for people who feel like that.”

(Courtesy of Anthony Mandler)

Huerta, 30, is also proud to represent the Latinx community. Showcasing that part of her identity has always been a priority, but became even more of one when she left the Mexican national team.

Wearing “Huerta” on her jersey is the ultimate honor for the defender. She’s one of two Mexican-Americans on the national team, along with midfielder Ashley Sanchez. Her name represents her father, who has been her biggest source of inspiration, and her heritage.

“I think it’s important for that community of young boys and girls to see that name, and know that they can do what I do,” Huerta said. “I represent those who don’t have an easy journey.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.