The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday September 24th

Tar Heels in the Pros: Former UNC soccer stars debut in National Women's Soccer League

Emily Fox, Taylor Otto and Brianna Pinto make their first appearances in the NWSL. Here's how they've fared.

UNC junior midfielder Brianna Pinto (8) dribbles past Virginia Tech junior midfielder Grace Sklopin (11) during the first round of the ACC Tournament on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020 at the WakeMed Soccer Park. The Heels beat the Hokies 1-0.
Buy Photos UNC junior midfielder Brianna Pinto (8) dribbles past Virginia Tech junior midfielder Grace Sklopin (11) during the first round of the ACC Tournament on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020 at the WakeMed Soccer Park. The Heels beat the Hokies 1-0.

While the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team is preparing for its regular season debut on Aug. 19, three former Tar Heels have been playing competitive matches all summer. 

They're all in the midst of their first-ever season in the National Women's Soccer League, looking to join a long list of players to go from Carolina Blue to soccer stardom. None of these players have put up flashy numbers, but they have set themselves up for productive post-collegiate careers. 

Emily Fox 

Fox was the first-ever draft pick by the NWSL's newest club, Racing Louisville FC, taken first overall this past January. The former first-team all-American has appeared in all 13 of Racing's games in its maiden season, starting in 12 of them.

While she has yet to get onto the scoresheet during the regular season, she has already become a core piece for her young club. After playing both midfielder and defender at UNC, Fox has shifted mostly to defense. 

It is a role she is familiar with, as Fox was not a primary scoring option as a Tar Heel. Aside from her 15-point junior season, she only compiled a total of nine points over the other three seasons of her collegiate career. She is, however, finding the same success she found in Chapel Hill as an anchor on the back line. 

Fox trained with the United States Women’s National Team in preparation for the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year. She made four appearances with the Stars and Stripes prior to this year.  

Taylor Otto 

Racing Louisville FC doubled down on Tar Heels in the 2021 NWSL Draft, taking Otto with the first selection of the second round. The former UNC team captain has appeared in only two games for Louisville as a substitute midfielder.

Otto subbed in during the team’s regular season opener, before suffering a knee injury that kept her out for nearly two months. She returned to the bench on July 9 against the Orlando Pride, but did not see any game actionuntil Aug. 8. Her 83rd-minute substitution provides hope that she could permanently crack the rotation for Louisville’s final segment of the season. 

Like Fox, she has not yet contributed any points for Racing, a team that has failed to score in over half of its regular season matches.

Racing Louisville FC has struggled in its opening year, currently sitting second-to-last in the NWSL standings. But Otto and Fox hope to serve as building blocks for a brighter future.

Brianna Pinto 

Pinto was drafted third overall by Sky Blue FC — now known as NJ/NY Gotham FC — in 2021, but she elected to remain in Chapel Hill to finish her junior season. After signing a two-year contract with Gotham FC, she made her first professional appearance on June 20 as a substitute against Orlando. 

The three-time first-team all-ACC selection has appeared in seven of the last nine games since her contract signing. 

She starred as a midfielder at UNC, compiling 31 goals and 19 assists during her Tar Heel career. Pinto is no longer the featured attacking option as she was in college, playing in more defensive positions. She has yet to contribute a point for her club. 

Pinto has also been a part of the U.S. women’s soccer program since joining the U14 national team and got her first call up to the senior team at age 16. Both her and Fox figure to be in the running for a spot on the team when the older core of Americans decide to retire. 

@ryanheller23

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com 



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