Tyler Lussi is kickin’ Princeton knowledge to help change the game

The expectation when you attend an Ivy League school is that you will receive one of the best educations in the country. For Portland Thorns FC’s Tyler Lussi, that education included important lessons learned inside and outside of the classroom.

A four-star recruit out of high school, Lussi decided to take her talents to the Ivy League with Princeton. “As I went through the recruiting process, Princeton stood head and shoulders above all the other schools for their inclusiveness, high academic and athletic standards, and commitment for its graduates to serve the nation and the world,” she told BGN. “I chose Princeton Women’s Soccer because they had
made it to the NCAA Final 4 and would still provide me one of the greatest inclusive educations in the world, but the over the top passion and intensity of Ivy League games as if every one of our 28 Ivy League games during my four years was an NCAA Final, really fit my intense style of practice and play.”

Lussi excelled in that atmosphere and left Princeton as a legend. She holds the school records in career points and career goals. How special is it to know she has that place in her school’s history? “Like every other young soccer player, I dreamed and still dream
of playing for the USWNT, winning the World Cup and the Olympics, but my first mission and dream was to study hard enough to get into Princeton and train hard enough to re-write their record books to inspire the next generation of scholar-athletes,” she answered. “I would not have been able to make a place in my school’s history books without my Princeton Women’s Soccer teammates, coaches, and mentors
who pushed me every single day to work harder than I ever have on and off the field.”

“I look at the records as team records because, without every single member of the Princeton Women’s Soccer team throughout my four years, these new records would not have been set.”

When she wasn’t setting records for the women’s team, you might actually find Tyler facing off with some of the men’s players, as you can see in the video below.

“That video is a great story. I had played in men’s leagues since I was a little girl, so when I found out that I was accepted to Princeton, I emailed the men’s coach and requested that I also train with his men’s team,” Lussi explained. “He emailed me back an official response about it not being allowed under some rule. The first day I arrived on campus for a summer scholar program just prior to my freshman year, I went out to the soccer pitch to train after morning classes and there were the best Princeton Men’s players playing pick-up. No words were needed…they never are between skilled soccer players.”

“They were all physically stronger than I was, but regarding putting the ball in the net, the video speaks for itself. We played pickup for the next four years. It made me faster, stronger and more fearless and it made them increase their skill, control and mindset – they learned about playing with a fearless mindset because they imagined themselves in my cleats playing against bigger stronger players.”

When it comes to the discussion of men’s soccer vs. women’s soccer, there is always an argument from an idiot that women aren’t as talented as the men. “To anyone who believes women do not have the skill, speed, strength and mindset to play soccer with men, chose your team and show up on the pitch,” Lussi said. “There will be incredible men players on my team, and they will trust my feet and head to put the ball in the back.”

It wasn’t just the men’s soccer team that Lussi caught the attention of while at Princeton.  After the last game of her career at Princeton, Tyler received an email from Princeton head football coach and alumni Bob Surace.

I waited until the end of your season, but I wanted to congratulate you for everything you have accomplished as a soccer player at Princeton. More importantly, you have been a tremendous example of how to play the game the “right way” – reaching everyone from my 13-year-old daughter to our entire football team that I encouraged to “watch #9” because of the extraordinary effort, toughness and joy you play with…You have handled both your incredible success and few disappointments with great character, class and integrity, and as both a coach and alum I could not be more proud of your leadership. I wish you the best as you attack your future aspirations with the same energy and passion that have separated you from the other elite athletes that you compete against. Thank you for all the great memories that I have shared with my family the past 4 years at Roberts Stadium, Tiger Up!

Her historic career at Princeton led Portland Thorns FC to select Lussi in the 2017 NWSL College Draft. Since arriving with the club, she’s been able to play as a starter and a super-substitute. Not every player is built to make an impact off the bench, but Lussi has the right approach. She said, “I play with the same intensity every minute of every practice and every game regardless of whether I start or come in off the bench. My mindset no matter what is I’m always ready.”

Thorns FC didn’t meet their lofty expectations in round-robin play during the Challenge Cup earlier this summer, but they did upset North Carolina Courage in the first knockout match. Now, the club is back for the NWSL’s Fall Series. “I’m looking forward to the Fall Series games and to be able to play at home at Providence Park is always so special,” Lussi said. “My entire team is highly motivated every single day in practice and games.”

She added, “During this unusual season, my teammates and I have become so much closer and our bond on and off the field is incredibly strong. To be able to play for the Portland Thorns and represent such a world-class organization is always an honor, so anytime you put on your jersey with the Thorns crest you better be ready!”

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Lussi, while focused on helping Portland pick up results, is also able to see the bigger picture for the NWSL and women’s soccer. “There are 24 million soccer players in the United States; between 8 million and 12 million are girls and women. Less than 200 of us get to play soccer for our careers,” she said. “The way I see it, each of us are carrying the soccer dreams of 40,000 to 60,000 soccer players/fans on our shoulders during each practice and game –that is a full stadium of cheering fans motivating each of us.”

“The reasons I want those 24 million soccer fans to be able to buy stock in the professional women’s league (an idea I announced at the Princeton Soccer Conference last December and again last January at the National Coaches Convention) are because it would be a huge win-win-win-win for fans-players-owners-stakeholders. Especially now, when fans cannot be in the stands, my idea is not reliant on ticket sales, but on the fact that all the professional sports leagues are too powerful and too wealthy to be willing to sell stock to their fans. A professional women’s league could generate $40 million to $120 million per year, pay the players and coaching staff professional-level salaries, dramatically increasing team values and make fans owners of the entire league (not just one team) for a $5 stock purchase.”

In addition to that innovative idea, Lussi has helped establish a platform to help the next generation of soccer stars: The National College Recruiting Center. “I co-founded NCRC with my older brother, Hunter, who broke the world record at 13 years old for being youngest Ironman. He is a professional triathlete and is in his 3rd year of law school now. My younger brother, Morgan, also helps us now that he is done his NCAA eligibility and (is) attending Loyola’s MBA program as well as (serving as) the assistant Men’s Soccer player-coach staying in shape and trying out for MLS/USL teams.”

“NCRC’s mission is to mentor scholar-athletes and their parents and/or guardians the way we were mentored. We provide scholar-athletes texting-based academic and athletic planning, reporting and suggestion platform to enhance communication, improve positive behaviors, and encourage each scholar-athlete’s full potential.”

The network can help players all over the country, including back in Baltimore County, Maryland where Lussi hails from and an area that’s proven to produce some great soccer talent. Another popular export of the area is the TV show, The Wire. “Yes, I watched The Wire, and given that it was filmed from 2002-2008, it was very authentic and foretold of many important social justice issues with which the country is now having to navigate and find better paths forward,” she said. Did she have a favorite character on the highly-acclaimed series? Lussi said, “By far I most admire Deirdre Lovejoy, who you know as Assistant District Attorney, Rhonda Pearlman, and who seems even cooler in real life and in her other roles. I would really enjoy meeting and speaking with her someday.”

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.