September 25, 2022

In an exclusive interview with GOAL, the Mexican-American right-back reflects on his long and winding road back to the national team

As the national anthems played ahead of a clash between her two cultures, Mexico-American fullback Sofia Huerta found herself wrestling with a familiar question: Who do I really want to be?

It was 2013 in Washington, and Huerta had made his choice. She had chosen to represent the country of her father: Mexico.

But, as the Star-Spangled Banner played ahead of a friendly against the United States, Huerta couldn’t help but think about who she really was.

“[Playing for Mexico] was a great experience for me. I was able to play on the international scene at a very young age”, says Huerta OBJECTIVE. “And it made me realize what I knew all along: that I really wanted to play for the United States.

“Hearing this American national anthem, I just thought, ‘Oh, I just resonate with that more right now and it feels more real to me.

“I love being Mexican, it was exactly what I dreamed of… A lot of people were giving me their advice and letting me know that I had made the wrong decision. I took everything with a grain of salt.

“It’s my background. I know what I can really do.”

To understand the context of Huerta’s journey, you must understand the context of Huerta’s upbringing.

His father, Mauricio, had emigrated to the United States from Puebla, Mexico, settling in Boise. And, for those who don’t know, Idaho is neither a hotbed of Mexican culture nor a developer of football talent.

And so Huerta had a different upbringing, which saw her connect with her Mexican roots even though few people around her really understood them.

“I think all my life I kind of identified with being Mexican-American,” Huerta said. “I think it was a different experience growing up in Idaho, which is obviously a less diverse area.

“And so I always knew I was different.”

She was different. Huerta became a multi-sport star in Boise, winning Idaho’s Gatorade Player of the Year twice in football. She caught the eye of Santa Clara University, one of the nation’s premier women’s soccer programs.

In 2012, her second year of college, she was playing for Mexico, having previously represented the United States at the U-20 level. The decision to play for Mexico at the time gave him a source of pride and a chance to represent his father and the whole family in his native country.

In December 2014, after a period of soul-searching, she announced that she would not continue playing for Mexico. The change, ultimately, took almost three years.

After that wait, Huerta hoped it was his time, his chance to finally seal his place on the USWNT team. But, after only seven selections, she found herself offside.

It was during this time that Huerta felt most alone. After several seasons in the NWSL that saw her bounce from position to position with the Chicago Red Stars and Houston Dash, she embarked on two loan spells in Australia, away from home and seemingly further afield. of his national team dreams.

Away from the USWNT and with her time as a Mexico international long gone, Huerta had moments of regret.

Huerta looked back on her first impressions with the USWNT and believed she wasted her chance. She looked back at all the times she didn’t give as much as she could have.

She had heard criticism from those who said she should never have left. She remembered everyone telling her she wasn’t good enough for the USWNT. And, at that time, she began to believe them.

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“Personally, I doubted my viability a lot during those years,” she said. “I had a lot of regrets about the way I acted during my time with the national team.

“I feel like I wasn’t as professional as I should have been. I wasn’t doing everything I could to make sure I got called up every time.

“In the years when I wasn’t called up, you really have to sit with those feelings, and it’s really uncomfortable. I really don’t wish that on anyone.

“I would kind of regret what I had done in the past and then worry about the future and whether I was going to get the chance again, and that wasn’t helping me at all. fact, it hurt me, I wasn’t playing to the best of my abilities and I just didn’t enjoy what I was doing.

“It was something I also had to think about like ‘I’m a professional football player! “Just because I’m not in the national team doesn’t mean I’m not a badass and didn’t get this far. I had to change the narrative.

That, Huerta says, is still an ongoing process, even though circumstances have changed significantly since those years in the desert. She’s worked with a life coach since leaving college, and she thinks taking care of her mental health in this way has helped propel her to where she is now.

The 29-year-old defender has become an important piece at OL Reign, one of the top clubs in the NWSL. Having played pretty much everywhere on the field, including forward, Huerta is now one of the best right backs in American football.

Huerta is also back with the USWNT, a key figure as they head towards the CONCACAF W Championship. After all these years of waiting, Huerta has now appeared in five of the USWNT’s eight matches so far. in 2022.

Success is slow in coming, but Huerta knows it can all be gone in the blink of an eye.

“[Seeing my life coach] is not something you do for a week and then like your life has changed,” she says. “I am personally, always, every day growing.

“Like, it might seem like I know everything I’m doing and I don’t have performance anxiety and I play so many games so it’s okay. No, every day challenges me. Every day is something new.

Sofia Huerta signing day

Signature Day Sports

“One day can be great and the next day it’s not so great. I think the main idea and the point is that a lot of things are out of your control and all you can really do is have short-term memory and moving forward.

“A lot of people don’t really talk about their mental health because I don’t think people are really aware of anxiety or anything and that’s something I’ve always been hyper about. conscious, and I think it’s really just helped me in all aspects of my life.”

All these years later, Huerta has developed a bit of perspective. She realizes that in some ways she was one of the lucky ones.

“Being from Idaho, I just wasn’t in a place where I was seen or exposed or where I had many opportunities in terms of being recruited and seen by college coaches,” says -she. “If you’re from California, you’re seen every weekend by some of the top colleges.

“For me, in particular, that wasn’t the case. Being Mexican-American also got in the way. I feel like even when my club team went on trips, my family, unfortunately, couldn’t afford to do this trip. , so I just wasn’t getting the exposure. And that was something that was really, really difficult for me.

“I had these thoughts about how I was playing with these girls and they’re also good but unfortunately due to lack of resources and quite honestly because we’re from Idaho they just don’t have had the opportunities.

“It happens everywhere, whether it’s for monetary reasons or where you come from. A lot of people miss such great opportunities.”

With that in mind, Huerta recently partnered with Signing Day Sports, a college recruiting platform that uses technology to help fuzzy players, players like Huerta, get their chance in the spotlight.

Signing Day recently expanded into football, the platform for athletes from across the United States to upload images, answer interview questions and, most importantly, connect with college coaches. It’s a platform that Huerta says has helped so many girls like her get seen by the right people.

“I really think about what it would be like if this platform was available to me during the recruitment process,” she says. “I think it would have made things a lot easier.

“I think it would have been great to have this platform to interact with the coaches and put myself forward because I think a lot of coaches didn’t see my value, which obviously affected my recruitment process.

“While I’m very happy with where my journey has taken me, I just think it’s such an important platform for people because it helps athletes get discovered and recruited by college coaches. across the country, which is not easy.

“A lot of people just aren’t seen.”

Huerta has earned her moment in the spotlight and, if all goes according to plan, there’s a chance she could earn a chance to perform on the biggest stage.

The World Cup is a year away with the 2024 Olympics, and Huerta has reason to believe she might finally get that chance.

It would be a dream come true for Huerta, the Mexican-American girl from Boise who overcame a lack of exposure, her own anxiety and a battle within herself just to get this far.

But, before she can contemplate those moments, her story has another very fitting chapter to write.

Coincidentally, the CONCACAF W Championship takes place in Mexico as Huerta returns to face his father’s country.

The third game of the USWNT group stage will be against the hosts, possibly putting Huerta against Mexico with a World Cup spot on the line.

She will hear the same national anthems she heard nine years ago, only this time she will be on the other side. The side where she really wants to be.