By Nick Charles | Word in Black

(WORD IN BLACK) – When she was just a sophomore, Anson Dorrance, the legendary women’s soccer coach at University of North Carolina, said of Brianna Pinto: “Pinto will be one of the top players in the collegiate game despite the fact she will only be a sophomore. What she brings us is a remarkable athletic platform where you can combine everything, like her speed element, her quickness element and her agility element. All of these factors put her in the top one percent of all the collegiate players in the country.”

Since that glowing assessment, Pinto, 21, has gone from college standout to highly touted professional. The third overall pick in the most recent National Women Soccer League Draft (NWSL) by NJ/NY Gotham, which was known as Sky Blue FC until 2020, Pinto patrols the midfield for the Harrison, New Jersey-based team. But Pinto, who hails from a soccer family – her father and brothers all played at a high level in college and beyond – is well aware of her influence away from the field of play. She welcomes her responsibility as a role model for the next generation of young players and she is also tackling the issue of equal pay for female athletes. Word In Black spoke with her as she trained with her teammates for a slew of upcoming matches.

Tell our Word In Black audience how you came to soccer and why you see it as an avenue for young African American, female athletes?

I love soccer because my dad and older brother played it before I did. Naturally, as the younger sister, I wanted to do what my older brother was doing. I have always had big dreams as a kid, particularly playing for UNC and representing the National Team. If your a parent has experience in a sport, they can give you a bit of a competitive edge in your development. Getting to train alongside my older brother, Hass, and younger brother, Malik, is the reason I am the player that I have become. They have made me tough and have challenged me to pursue everything I want out of this sport. 

For young Black girls, I think it is important to have role models at the highest level of every field. Soccer helped me grow my confidence because I set goals for myself and worked to achieve them through perseverance, hard work and grit. Soccer is also unique because it is a team sport. You will play alongside so many people of different backgrounds, and for me, it allowed me to build meaningful friendships and see the world in a new way. 

The Pinto family is a soccer family; how competitive are you with your brothers?

I am extremely competitive with my family. Even though my mom did not play soccer (she played collegiate softball), she is just as competitive as all of us and has developed a tactical understanding as good as any soccer fan I know. We all strive for greatness and hold each other accountable in the process. Additionally, we’re always supportive of the things we’re all doing, through thick and thin. Competition sets the framework for what we want to achieve in life, and it has served all of us well.

How has the transition been from college to the pros? What has been the steepest learning curve? 

The transition has been relatively seamless. I am enjoying living in New Jersey. My new teammates have been incredibly welcoming, and I love the style of play here. I am super excited to have made my debut versus Orlando, and I am looking forward to what is ahead. The biggest change is the speed of play, but I feel like I have adjusted nicely because our training environment is high level and incorporates various drills where we are required to play under pressure. Everyone in the NWSL fully embodies what it means to be a professional. They are the best of the best. That’s what I love about this level because I am learning and growing every single day. 

You have represented the United States on several age group teams in several tournaments. Were you in the mix for the 2021 Olympic team? And how do you feel about not being included?

I was on the 39 player provisional roster for the Olympic Qualifying event. However, the United States is the best team in the world, so it will take some time to break into that team. One of my dreams is to represent the USWNT in the World Cup and Olympics, and I will work as hard as I can to make that happen. Since I have just joined the NWSL, a league where various members of the USWNT play, I have an opportunity to showcase my ability every week and earn an invite to a Senior National Team camp. Until then, I will fixate my energy on trying to improve as much as possible, to compete every time I step on the field, to have an impact in every game, and to have fun while I am doing it.

Who were some of your soccer and sporting idols growing up and why?

I have worn #8 the majority of my career because I wanted to be like Andres Iniesta during his time at Barcelona. He is the master of time and space on the ball, and he regularly created and scored goals at the height of his career.

I also love Serena Williams because she is one of the greatest athletes of all time. She defied odds and overcame adversity of all kinds, and she is unapologetically herself. She is confident in her ability, poised and has a relentless drive to compete. 

We know that Crystal Dunn Soubrier is part of the Black Women’s Player Collective. Have you heard of it? Where do you stand on being a part of it? Would you join?

Several of my teammates are involved with the BWPC. I recently joined the group this week because it is an organization that is advocating for many things that I identify with. I am proud of their efforts to push our league and sport towards a better future for all.

How do you think we get to pay equity for women athletes in team sports, particularly soccer?

I believe pay equity begins with media coverage. Women’s sports only receive around 4% of media coverage, which undermines all the incredible women athletes that have been successful throughout history. Viewership is a huge factor in growing professional sports, and it is the responsibility of companies and media providers to invest in us, like they have done for our male counterparts, and make our games available to the public. Additionally, we need everyone to attend games, buy jerseys and support teams on social media and beyond. This is the way we will make soccer the preeminent sport in the United States and close the pay gap. 

Would you ever play abroad and what would be your first choice league/country?

I would love to play overseas at some point in my career. I would definitely want to go to Europe so I could play in the Champions League. France, England and Spain are some of my ideal choices, as they have competitive leagues with world class teams. However, I would be open to considering any opportunities later on in my career. Right now, I am focused on giving my best effort to Gotham FC and creating history with my teammates.

Tell us two things about you that no one knows.

As a kid, I wanted to be an architect and I was obsessed with building houses on Sims 3. After I broke my right collarbone, I taught myself how to hit left handed when I played baseball.

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.