Waves Soccer Star Goes Pro

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Soccer star Bri Visalli was drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League this winter and will soon begin training with the Chicago Red Stars.

Bri Visalli, the Pepperdine women’s soccer standout who spent her senior season lighting up the nets of opponents, is taking her high-scoring soccer game to the Windy City. 

The Malibu Times’ 2017 Athlete of the Year was selected by a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team— the Chicago Red Stars—in the second round of the league’s draft on Jan. 18. Visalli, a second team All-American and the recipient of several other college soccer honors, was the 19th pick in the 40-player draft.

Visalli said being scooped up in the draft with some of soccer’s top young talents was a dream realized.

“I will be playing with and against some of the people I’ve watched play while growing up,” she said. “It’s really surreal.”

The December 2017 Pepperdine graduate will move to Illinois in preparation for the NWSL’s 2018 season before the end of the month. The Red Stars’ season begins in March. Visalli is ready to compete with some of the best women’s soccer players in the world and the business of professional sports.

“My work environment is now essentially competing for a starting spot with my other co-workers,” she said. “I think it will make me a better player and a better person for it. I can’t wait for the challenge.”

Pepperdine coach Tim Ward said Visalli was an “amazing human being” who worked hard to get drafted. 

“I am very proud of her,” he said. “She represented Pepperdine soccer and our university very well.” 

Visalli, a Bay Area native, began her soccer life as a youngster playing in a church soccer league who was more interested in picking daisies off the pitch than kicking a ball. When she began to kick it, she really began to kick it—in a way that bombarded goal keepers and piled up offensive stats. 

Visalli scored 39 goals and recorded 37 assists for a total of 116 points as a high school player at Valley Christian High.

The midfielder scored goals and received several honors from her freshman to junior Pepperdine seasons, but she was a dominant offensive force her senior season—August to November 2017. Visalli led Pepperdine to a 15-3-3 record and the second round of the NCAA tournament. She scored 14 goals—the second-best single-season total in Waves history—and tallied six penalty-kick goals and game-winning goals each, also Pepperdine records. Visalli led the West Coast Conference in every top offensive category and was in the top 15 nationally in goals and points. 

Visalli, the WCC Player of the Year and an All-WCC and All-West Region first-teamer, finished her Waves career with a Pepperdine record—seven penalty-kick goals, 14 game-winning goals—second in school history and seventh on the career-scoring list with 25 goals. 

She is one of four Pepperdine soccer alumni to be drafted by a team in the NWSL. Roxanne Barker was picked in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. Michelle Pao was chosen in the third round a year later. Lynn Williams was drafted in the first round in 2015.

Ward noted that former Waves—including Hannah Seabert, Rylee Baisden, Anisa Guajardo, Gunny Jonsdottir, Anna Picarelli, Susan Palmer and Emily Lynn—have played or are still playing in pro soccer leagues across the globe. 

Ward said one of the reasons Pepperdine players are selected by pro teams is because they aren’t put on a pedestal, whether they are an award winner or not, during their college seasons.

“We make a big deal of it at the senior banquet, when it’s time to honor individuals,” he said. “With our girls, we are very intentional about not celebrating individual achievement in a team sport. As a result, I think our girls learn in their four years at Pepperdine that it is about the team. They learn to sacrifice and humble themselves.”

Ward said the team focuses on growing and excellence as opposed to winning. 

“Because of that foundation, when our girls go into the professional realm, they don’t expect to be a superstar,” he said. “They are there to work hard and when they get an opportunity, to make the most of it.” 

Some of those players are expected to return to Malibu to participate in the Wave soccer program’s alumni contest on Feb. 10 at Pepperdine. 

Visalli was still solidifying where she will live in Illinois and other logistics a week after the draft. 

She has dreamed of playing professional soccer since she was a preteen and said pursuit of a soccer career at the next level solidified her junior season when she heard teammates say they wanted to play high-level soccer after college.

“The little fiery competitor in me was like, ‘If they are doing it, I’m doing it,’” she said. “It really inspired me when my teammates were taking that leap of faith to pursue this as a career.”

Ward said Visalli’s skills and competitive persona on the soccer field will impress the Red Stars’ coaches. After Visalli was drafted, Ward tweeted congratulations to the player and the Midwest-based team and called Visalli a “NWSL star in the making!”

Visalli is focused on only what she can control: positives such as her attitude and effort, not issues like her playing time or contract.

“I want to make sure I stay true to who I am as a player and my identity,” she said. “That is what got me here and that is what is going to get me to the next level. Doing what I do best is what I’m going to need to do at the next level and doing it at a higher speed of play.”