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Sofia Huerta is right back where she belongs

How Sofia Huerta found a home and her confidence in an unfamiliar position

Soccer: SheBelieves Cup-USA at Japan
Sofia Huerta passes with her right foot, ball is mid air
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

“Last chance saloon” is how Ride of the Valkyrie’s Jacob Cristobal described the outside world’s view of Sofia Huerta’s move to OL Reign back in 2020, after two years with the Houston Dash. Sofia Huerta has famously had an unorthodox path to the US Women’s National Team, a path that included playing for the Mexico Women’s National Team at the senior level before putting herself in an unfamiliar position on the pitch to declare for the US and get her shot in the system.

Huerta was told that converting to right back would improve her chances of making the senior USWNT, a move she wanted to make at the club level to better prepare for competing for a national team spot. She thought she would get the opportunity at Houston, but the chance never came, and after being called up for the first time in 2017, Huerta quickly faded from the USWNT picture for years, including during the 2019 World Cup cycle. For many, including Huerta at times, her chance at the national team had come and gone, even as she continued to produce for her club teams.

Coming home and finding peace are the stories of Huerta’s journey on and off the pitch. Born in Boise, Idaho to an American mother and a Mexican-born father who immigrated to the United States, Huerta has spoken eloquently about her struggles living in two worlds, as first generation American on her father’s side, who worked to fit in in Boise.

“From the beginning, I think I didn’t want to speak Spanish anymore because I wanted to fit in” Huerta said on a recent episode of “My New Favorite Futbolista” from NBC Sports. Much like her hyphenated identity, Huerta has worked to incorporate her attacking talents and on the ball skills into her defensive position at right back for club and country.

Coming home to OL Reign, the professional team closest to her hometown, Huerta was able to become a mainstay on a backline that boast her USWNT teammate Alana Cook and former Defender of the Year Lauren Barnes, often pushing forward to join the attack, or sending in crosses to her tallest players. Consequently, OL Reign currently leads the NWSL with most headed goals in 2023, a feat earned in large part off the crossing ability of Huerta.

Called back up to the senior national team after two successful seasons with OL Reign in November 2021, Huerta traveled with the team to Australia as right back. League play had helped her earn a call up for the first time since 2018, and Huerta quickly made the most of the opportunity. She was older now, in her late 20s, and aware that this was her last chance to earn a spot on the USWNT. She performed much like she had in league play and has consistently earned a call-up for every window since then, including the CONCACAF W Qualifiers in the summer of 2022.

One of the talents that makes Sofia Huerta invaluable to the USWNT at the right back position is her crossing ability. Huerta will be asked to defend from her position in certain matchday scenarios, but her right foot from distance is one of the best weapons in women’s football. I’ve given her the nickname “Pontius Pilate” due to the sheer volume and accuracy of the crosses she delivers to the 18 yard box. It offers head coach Vlatko Andonovski an alternate way to play out of the back and breaks line of defense, and offers up a chance for one of the most talented front lines in the world to run onto, or under, some of the most pinpoint passes in football. It may especially benefit our pool of players running in from the left side or playing in the central striker role, as they can cut across the box and send the cross back in the direction it came from, hopefully pulling the goalkeeper out for an easy header or volley.

Much like Andi Sullivan, her confidence on the ball also allows her to shoot accurately from distance, something she has attempted successfully with OL Reign when given the go ahead. This may be an additional weapon at Andonovski’s disposal in the knockout stages of the tournament.

Sofia Huerta’s confidence in her passing, which currently has her as the second all-time assist leader in NWSL history, comes from finding her place in both of her worlds. She is at home in Seattle, close to her family and her support system, and she is at home playing for the United States, the country of her birth, that allows her to define what it means to be an American, a Mexican-American and a first time World Cup participant at the age of 30. Her work off the pitch, in training and with her mental health, has finally helped Huerta rise above the pressure, just like her crosses.

Theme Song for Sofia Huerta: The Old Rugged Cross - Carrie Underwood