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The Daily Tar Heel

Remember the Tar Heels: Three women's soccer stars selected in 2021 NWSL Draft

UNC senior defender Emily Fox (11) inbounds a ball.

Mia Hamm, Tobin Heath, Heather O’Reilly, Lucy Bronze — all icons of the game of soccer that got their start donning Carolina blue for head coach Anson Dorrance and the UNC women’s soccer team.

Now, three new names will try to emerge from Chapel Hill and craft their own legends. Tar Heel stars Emily Fox, Brianna Pinto and Taylor Otto were all drafted in the first two rounds of the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League draft on Jan. 13, giving them a shot at pro glory.

As they seek to write their own stories, let’s take a look at the ones they wrote while playing on Dorrance Field.

Emily Fox

There’s a good reason Racing Louisville FC chose Fox with the first overall pick of the draft. If solid play, championship experience and inner strength are what the newly created team needed in a player, it's in luck, because Fox has those attributes in spades.

Fox proved her skill from day one, being named to the third-team All-ACC squad in her first year. She followed this up with three consecutive first-team All-ACC appearances and was named a finalist for the 2019 Hermann Trophy, given to the best college soccer player in the nation. All these honors came despite tearing her ACL twice — once as a first-year, and once in her junior year.

Despite her second injury, Fox came back and was the rock of a solid Tar Heel defense that conceded just three goals throughout the regular season en route to a 2020 ACC Championship appearance, where the team fell to top-seeded Florida State in the final. With her professional career now staring her in the face, Fox’s wealth of talent and big-game experience will give her a head start in blazing her own path.

Brianna Pinto

On a soccer field, there isn’t much Pinto can’t do

If you need goals, Pinto scored 23 of those during her time at UNC, including an 11-goal sophomore campaign that saw her finish second on the team in scoring. If you’re looking for some important passes, Pinto’s also got you covered, with her six assists that sophomore season giving her a team-leading 28 total points.

It’s these skills, along with her quickness and smooth ball control, that helped Pinto be named to the first-team All-ACC squad in all three of her years at UNC. Her skills didn’t dry up in big games, either, including a crucial second-half goal in the 2019 NCAA College Cup quarterfinals that helped make the difference in a 3-2 win over Southern California. 

Pinto’s clutch genes were still there this season when she scored the lone goal against Virginia Tech in a 1-0 victory that sent the Tar Heels to the ACC Championship semifinals. In drafting her third overall, Sky Blue FC is getting a player who should make an impact immediately.

Pinto will be playing for the Tar Heels one last season this spring before heading to the pros.

Taylor Otto

Racing Louisville FC took Otto with the 11th overall pick, meaning she will be joining Fox in their first professional season together. Though her statistics may not jump off the page as they do for Fox and Pinto, her importance as a Tar Heel cannot be understated.

Otto was an All-ACC player all four years at UNC, including a first-team nod in her sophomore year. She showed incredible versatility, playing everywhere from the defensive line to the forward positions before settling in the midfield towards the end of that season. 

Though she did have important goalward moments, including assisting the equalizing goal in a 2-1 win over Washington State in the 2019 NCAA College Cup semifinals, her true skill comes from her ability to control the midfield using composed passing and powerful leadership. Dorrance called her, “one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever coached,” and a smart, selfless, championship-caliber leader is just the sort of thing a young team like Racing Louisville FC needs to come out of the gates hot.


@dthsports |

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