With the NWSL in its ninth season, it’s already reached longevity and promotional milestones previous American women’s soccer leagues haven’t. The NWSL didn’t so much discover a formula no one had ever thought of, but rather the persistence of prior leagues and the players who played in them helped pave the way for the NWSL to be established, stabilize and eventually, grow, persist and succeed. Given this, there is a concerted push to ensure that as the NWSL soars, it remembers its roots, which can sometimes be found in players still in the league.
One such player is Tori Huster, who has been playing in the NWSL since the league’s inaugural season in 2013. Before the NWSL, Huster played at Florida State and spent her summer off-seasons playing for the Boston Renegades (‘08 & ‘09) and Colorado Rush (‘10) in the American W-League, a semi-professional league that would end up folding in 2015. In 2012, Huster was selected by the Western New York Flash, at the time a club entering the Women’s Professional Soccer League-Elite, another semi-professional league but with an even shorter history, as it halted competition just one year later.
In 2013 Huster was selected by the Washington Spirit in the new league’s supplemental draft, and Washington has been Huster’s American soccer home ever since. Still, during off-seasons and to make a living playing professional soccer, Huster would travel to Australia to play multiple seasons in the W-League, mostly for the Newcastle Jets (and once for Western Sydney Wanderers).
This was, not too long ago, the life of a professional women’s footballer trying to make a living in a sport they loved despite being underfunded, ignored and denied opportunities and support. Huster’s career path, both before and during her NWSL career, is both a reminder of what it took to get a women’s league to this point, and an illustration of the passion, determination and skill that was ever-present – even when the cameras, financial backing or television executives were nowhere to be found.
It was against this backdrop that a beautiful goal in its own right became something even more beautiful. The Spirit’s stoppage time match-winning goal versus Racing Louisville was one of those stunning bits of football that combined multiple players pulling off multiple difficult things in concert, and it was all started by Huster’s perfect execution of a classic skill.
Huster, who had moved into midfield (her third position of the match!), receives a pass from Paige Nielsen with her back to goal. The NWSL veteran senses the pressure coming, and waits for it – she already knows what she’s about to do.
This has to be the @NWSL goal of the week. Right @SpiritSquadron ? @WashSpirit pic.twitter.com/BrqS5GhBH9— KWardSpirit (@KWardSpirit) April 16, 2021
She then spins away from the pressure with a perfectly executed Cruyff turn — a maneuver birthed in 1974 by Dutch legend Johan Cruyff — that expels her marker into the abyss and gifts Huster acres of space to drive into the final third. Facing the defense, she clips a pass wide right to Trinity Rodman, who’d held her run to ensure she remained onside, and used her pace to catch the ball before it went out of play. Rodman quickly got the ball under her control, identified a target in the box, and sent a cross headed toward Ashley Sanchez, who beat the keeper with a low volley struck first-time.
It was a beautiful move that was layered a deeper, more complex aesthetic. An NWSL original executed a throwback skill and carried the ball forward to set up a combination between teenage rookie Trinity Rodman and second-year pro Ashley Sanchez – whose professional careers began much differently than Huster’s. Rodman, the assister, skipped college to join the NWSL; goalscorer Sanchez left college early to turn pro. When the latter was asked on draft night what she was most looking forward to, she bluntly replied, “Money.” Both paths are worlds away from crumbling leagues and the continent-hopping that Huster had to do as recently as three years ago.
That is the deeper layer of beauty in this goal. Huster, an NWSL original, flashed a guile and technique that existed well before this league started getting the attention it deserves to provide the foundation for two of the NWSL’s brightest young players to shine. As a live metaphor that forces an appreciation of the past informing the present to setup the future, the goal couldn’t have been scripted any better.