All Scores

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.”

img
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.”

img
(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.

‘UNINTERRUPTED’s Top Class Tennis’ Debuts on Prime 

Still from tennis docuseries UNINTERRUPTED'S Top Class Tennis
'UNINTERRUPTED'S Top Class Tennis' follows four junior players as they prep for the Orange Bowl. (Amazon MGM Studios)

Prime Video is hitting the tennis court with Thursday's streaming premiere of UNINTERRUPTED's Top Class Tennis.

After four seasons of the men's high school basketball-focused Top Class: The Life and Times of The Sierra Canyon Trailblazers, athlete empowerment brand UNINTERRUPTED is expanding its purview to tennis with a new four-episode mixed-gender docuseries.

Junior tennis stars take centerstage

Behind the concept is 2017 US Open champion and world No. 45 pro Sloane Stephens, who co-executive produced the series alongside LeBron James and Maverick Carter, co-founders of UNINTERRUPTED and its production and entertainment development arm, The SpringHill Company.

Top Class Tennis follows four players on their journeys to the Orange Bowl, arguably the junior circuit’s Grand Slam equivalent. The Florida-based international tournament was established in 1947 and has crowned a long list of future pros as champions, from retired great Steffi Graf to current star Coco Gauff.

Stealing the spotlight this season is rising Harvard sophomore and 2022-23 USA Today Girls Tennis Player of the Year Stephanie Yakoff, as well as five-time junior title winner and incoming Texas freshman Ariana Anazagasty-Pursoo. Both already have WTA creds, with Yakoff featuring at the 2023 BNP Paribas Open while Anazagasty-Pursoo competed on three Grand Slam courts.

Kamilla Cardoso, Kiki Rice, Caitlin Clark, Holly Rowe and Kristen Lappas at the ESPN+ 'Full Court Press' premiere
ESPN+'s Full Court Press is one of several women's sports docs hitting the screen this year. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Women's sports storms the big screen

Top Class Tennis is just the latest in what's shaping up to be a women’s sports documentary boom.

From Max's LFG about the USWNT's fight for equal pay and Netflix's Under Pressure chronicling the 2023 World Cup to ESPN+’s 2023-24 NCAA basketball series Full Court Press, athletes in women’s sports have taken streamers by storm.

UNINTERRUPTED's Top Class Tennis is available for streaming now on Prime Video

JWS Launches ‘The Gold Standard’ Hosted by Olympians Kelley O’Hara & Lisa Leslie

the gold standard logo
'The Gold Standard' is just one of three new JWS shows tackling the Summer Olympics.

Just Women's Sports announced three new digital series on Thursday, headlined by The Gold Standard, a new studio show hosted by Olympic gold medalists and women's sports icons Kelley O'Hara and Lisa Leslie.

USWNT and NWSL great O'Hara, a two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold and bronze medalist, is teaming up with three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie, herself a four-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, to bring viewers inside the world of Olympic women's sports. The pair will record each episode in-studio, with a series of special guests joining them throughout the show's run.

An insider's view of the Summer Games

The Gold Standard will debut on July 27th and cover the biggest women's sports stories from the Paris Olympics, giving fans a unique perspective by tapping into the insights and opinions of two legendary Olympians. 

"I know first-hand just how exciting and intense the Olympic Games can be," Leslie told JWS. "This show gives us a chance as athletes to bring fans closer to the experience, by sharing our unique insights into the Games. And with all the momentum we're seeing in women's sports, now is the perfect time to have a show dedicated to the biggest women's sports moments at the Olympic Games." 

"I can still remember watching the '96 Olympics and knowing that I wanted to be on that stage one day," says O'Hara. "Having the chance to compete in the Olympics and win gold was one of the highlights of my career. I'm looking forward to being a fan this time around and getting the chance to share my own perspective on the Games' biggest stories. Having teamed with Just Women's Sports before, I know this will be content that resonates with fans." 

The Gold Standard will live on Just Women's Sports' YouTube page, with select social cuts distributed across JWS digital platforms. The six-episode show will run through August 13th.

uswnt stars kelley o'hara and jaedyn shaw on jws digital series 1v1
1v1 with Kelley O'Hara will focus on USWNT players as they prep for the 2024 Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

Additional series focus on USWNT's Olympic run

The Gold Standard is just one of three upcoming JWS series designed to invite fans to experience the Summer Games from an Olympian's point of view, with additional series zeroing in on the USWNT's 2024 Olympic run.

Ahead of the opening ceremony, JWS will launch the latest edition of 1v1, with host Kelley O'Hara interviewing three of her USWNT teammates: Emily Sonnett, Jaedyn Shaw, and Rose Lavelle. These peer-to-peer interviews provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the USWNT's preparation for their first major tournament under new manager Emma Hayes.

To round things out, JWS is also bringing back its award-winning series, The 91st. This tournament's edition will be hosted by retired USWNT star and World Cup champion Jessica McDonald alongside noted soccer personalities Jordan Angeli and Duda Pavão. The 91st will follow the USWNT as it looks to go for gold against a stacked international field at the Paris Olympics — including reigning World Cup winners Spain.

Each new digital series leans on the expertise of its accomplished hosts and special guest stars, providing fans with candid, personality-driven commentary surrounding this summer's biggest event.

Costa Rica Holds USWNT to 0-0 Draw in Frustrating Olympic Send-Off

USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan dribbles the ball by Costa Rica forward Melissa Herrera and midfielder Gloriana Villalobos
The USWNT had 12 shots on goal on Tuesday despite failing to find the back of the net. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

The USWNT didn't quite get the going away party they were hoping for, settling for a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica on Tuesday in their final tune-up match before the 2024 Olympics kick off next week.

The US produced 26 shots — 12 on target — alongside 67 touches in the box, the most in any match where they failed to convert a single goal since at least 2015, per Opta. Yet they also faced a heroic performance from Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermúdez, who tallied 12 saves on the night.

USWNT starters remained mostly intact

After Saturday's win over Mexico, USWNT manager Emma Hayes opted for a very similar starting XI, only swapping Crystal Dunn in for Jenna Nighswonger due to load management.

Named starter Rose Lavelle was a late scratch from the lineup after team warmups, with US Soccer attributing her last-minute absence to "leg tightness." Lavelle was replaced by midfielder Korbin Albert, giving the US a slightly less aggressive attacking edge throughout the match.

Casey Krueger, Lynn Williams, Jaedyn Shaw, Emily Sonnett, and rookie Croix Bethune all got minutes in the second half, coming off the bench to contend with Washington, DC's brutally hot conditions.

USWNT forward Sophia Smith and Costa Rica midfielder Gloriana Villalobos battle for the ball
Costa Rica managed to fend off the USWNT with a strong defensive low-block. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY)

Costa Rica's low-block spelled trouble

"Listen, if you play a game of percentages or law of averages, we're creating more and more high-quality chances, and we're getting numbers into key areas — we're getting touches in the key areas," Hayes told reporters after the match, calling attention to Costa Rica's strong defensive low-block.

"The last part's the hardest part. And I'm really patient, because I've coached teams that have to break blocks down, and it's the hardest thing to do in coaching," she continued.

Hayes also noted the team's lack of training time under her management: The decorated coach officially joined the US in early June after finishing the WSL season with her previous club, league champs Chelsea FC.

USWNT pose for a picture after their send-off friendly against costa rica at Audi Field
The USWNT's Olympic group stage run kicks off on July 25th. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Where to watch the USWNT's Olympic games

Tuesday's draw is just the second time the USWNT has entered a major tournament off a non-win. Back in 2015, the US embarked on their legendary World Cup campaign after a 0-0 send-off draw with South Korea.

The next time the USWNT takes the pitch will be at the Paris Olympics, where they'll play Zambia on Thursday, July 25th at 3 PM ET. The match will be broadcast live on USA, with streaming options available on Peacock.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

Subscribe to The Late Sub to never miss an episode.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.