Victoria Safradin starts for the U.S. against Brazil at the U17 Women's World Cup in October. (Angel Martinez - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

A few months ago, 17-year-old Victoria Safradin from Eastlake, Ohio, was doing homework in her room and refreshing her email when she heard a ping.

Safradin opened the new message in her inbox to find, in all capital letters, the message “CONGRATULATIONS.”

This was the moment she had been waiting for. With tears in her eyes, the 5-foot-11 goalkeeper ran down the stairs to deliver the news that she, the daughter of Croatian immigrants, was going to don the red, white and blue at the U17 Women’s World Cup in India.

Safradin’s family was just as ecstatic.

“For me, my big motivation is to make them proud,” Safradin says. “For me, everything I do is to make them not regret coming to the United States … to reassure them that everything they did isn’t a waste.”

On Oct. 11 in Bhubaneswar, India, Safradin took the pitch as the U.S. goalkeeper in front of 12,000 people. When the opening whistle sounded, Safradin’s nerves faded away as she settled in between the posts and focused on the task at hand. She recorded a clean sheet, ushering the U.S. to a commanding 8-0 victory over India in the group stage.

“I just had to take a minute to take in the moment and realize what I just did,” she says. “I just want to remain humble. I was trying to not take it for granted. I know there’s a lot of girls who would dream to be in the position like any of us on the national team.”

Safradin and the U.S. advanced to the World Cup quarterfinal, where they fell to Nigeria in penalty kicks after ending regulation in a 1-1 tie. It was the team’s second-best finish since the U17 tournament began in 2008 and a defining moment in Safradin’s own soccer journey after making two World Cup starts.

Safradin began playing soccer around the age of 5. By age 7, she found her calling through a process that started with a simple hand raise.

“I was in recreational soccer, and they needed a goalkeeper. I raised my hand,” she recalls. “The next thing you know, I played so great, my dad from then on was like, ‘She’s going to be a goalkeeper.’”

Safradin stars for her ECNL U17 team in Ohio, Internationals SC. (Courtesy of Victoria Safradin)

Around age 11, Safradin started to draw attention from elite club teams in Ohio. She joined Internationals Soccer Club after being identified as a top-tier talent by Zdravko Popovic, the club’s president and founder.

In the years since then, Safradin has not only developed physically and technically, but she’s also also improved her mental toughness. Once afraid of making mistakes, the Eastlake North High School senior has learned that failure can often be the only way to get better.

“She’s a great leader. She’s respected by her teammates,” Popovic says. “She’s a general in the back of the field. She’s my team captain.”

In the last two years, Safradin has really hit her stride, showcasing her evolving skill set against tougher competition and ultimately earning call-ups up to U.S. Soccer camps.

Last season, with Safradin in net, Internationals SC U17 went 19-1-5 and won the 2022 Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) Ohio Valley Conference. In May, Safradin was named the Best Goalkeeper in the U17 Concacaf W Championship after recording three clean sheets and allowing just one goal the entire tournament.

“That was my first big achievement. The hard part with the national team is you’re never guaranteed a spot,” Safradin says. “You never know. One mistake can cost you.”

From Concacaf to the World Cup, Safradin is trying to take every milestone one step at a time. Currently, she’s focused on her last season of club soccer before she joins the University of Virginia soccer team next fall.

For Safradin, committing to play for the Cavaliers was an easy choice. As soon as she stepped on campus in Charlottesville, she could hear Popovic’s voice.

“Always look at the picture in black and white. Don’t just look at the soccer piece. Act as if you weren’t a soccer player — would you still want to go there?” Popovic told her.

At UVA, the answer was an immediate yes. She plans to study healthcare management, combining her interests in healthcare and business, while playing for the university’s storied soccer program. The Cavaliers have made 28 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and four College Cups, with their best result a runner-up finish in 2014.

Safradin is intent on turning her journey into a professional soccer career, and in a few months, she’ll take the next big step toward her goal.

“I always tell myself I’m going to do whatever it takes to get to that level. But obviously, before pro comes college,” she says. “I want to do very good with my team there, go to the NCAA Tournament, possibly win a national championship.”

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.