Varsity Extra

Centennial graduate Sofia Huerta makes professional soccer debut Saturday

Sofia Huerta will pull on a jersey for the first time as a professional soccer player, and staring across the field will be two of the sport’s biggest stars.

Huerta and the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League, the top women’s professional league in the U.S., open the season at 6 p.m. at home against Seattle Reign FC. Seattle’s roster includes U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo and midfielder Megan Rapinoe.

“Emotionally, it’s crazy because I watched these girls growing up and have looked up to them,” said Huerta, who played college soccer at Santa Clara. “So the fact that I’ll be on the same field, hopefully, with them is mind-blowing.

“But I’m trying to keep my emotions low — not get too high high and not get too low low — and just realize I’ve played a million soccer games before and this is another one.”

Huerta, 22, said one of the toughest parts of transitioning to being a professional athlete, the down time, has helped calm her before Saturday’s opener. The down time has also allowed her to set goals for this season.

She met her first goal when she signed a contract with the Red Stars on April 6. Even though Chicago picked her with the 11th overall pick in January’s draft, she still had to prove in camp she deserved a spot on the final roster.

“She’s extremely powerful, very good technique, likes to get out there off the dribble, has the ability to combine and bring other players into the game with her, has a great energy,” Chicago coach Rory Dames said. “We’re excited to have her and are very pleased having her.”

Huerta started every preseason game for Chicago, playing either forward or outside midfield and scoring in the finale against Notre Dame. The 20-game regular season continues into early September.

Dames declined to say whether she’ll start or play Saturday, but he said she’ll likely play a different role with the club depending on the availability of the team’s World Cup players.

Chicago fields four players named to the U.S.’s 2015 World Cup roster — midfielder Shannon Boxx, defender Lori Chalupny, defender Julie Johnston and forward Christen Press. The Red Stars also host three members of the Canadian national team and one New Zealand national team player, both qualifiers for this summer’s World Cup.

“I think she’s capable to play anywhere across the front line, and she can play in the midfield, too,” Dames said. “Her versatility is going to serve her well to get on the field.”

Huerta’s next goals include earning playing time, a starting spot and proving she can make an impact against elite players. Making noise against the likes of Solo and Rapinoe could draw the attention of the U.S. national team, a dream Huerta admits is a long shot.

Huerta, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico, scored three goals for Mexico at the U-20 World Cup in 2012 after the U.S. U-20 team cut her. She also played in four friendlies for the Mexican senior team. But her top goal remains the U.S. national team, which she is still eligible for because she has not played in a FIFA-regulated match for Mexico’s senior team.

“Individually, I want to know if I’m good enough to make it,” Huerta said. “Self-doubt is something that is super big when you’re trying to make a (national) pool team in any sport. Being here will really help me evaluate whether or not I have the potential to be on that pool team.

“I want to see if I play games and if I’m impactful or stand out. Because if I don’t do that here, then there is no way I’m going to be able to do that at the pool-team level. I think playing in this league will help me realize that.”