Tori Huster is one of three remaining Spiriit originals and the only one who is non-allocated (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)
Spirit Family. It’s a simple phrase used by Washington to reflect the bond between the members of the team, the organization and its fans. The phrase is often used as a hashtag on Twitter and even appears on the team’s season ticket holders’ scarves this season. For Spirit midfielder Tori Huster, that saying holds a deeper meaning as her younger sister Maddie has spent the last few summers with the club’s reserve side.
Maddie, who’s 7 years younger than the elder Huster, will be a junior at Wake Forest next fall. She came to D.C. prior to her freshman season on her sister’s advice. Their time together with the Spirit has strengthened their relationship, as Tori admits they didn’t have a lot in common when she left home to go to Florida State.
“I think the first year that she was here that was probably the first time in I would say five or six years that we were actually living in the same house,” Tori explained, “It’s just crazy. She literally grew up and I didn’t really get to see that because I was away at college and just to be able to be around her daily again was something that I didn’t even know I missed.”
Now that her sister is older and has gone through a lot of the same experiences that she has, Tori finds they have more in common. Maddie, who’s started almost every game the past two seasons at Wake Forest, also hopes to become a professional soccer player after her days as a Demon Deacon are over. Tori thinks it’s cool that things have kind of come full circle.
“We’re sisters, but a lot times your family members aren’t doing the same things you are in life,” she reflected. “It’s really cool to do the same thing when we’ve been apart for so long. Now, we’re kind of on the same path.”
Although Maddie in a sense followed her sister to Washington, it was the younger Huster who helped deliver the Spirit Family’s first trophy last year as the Reserves defeated the Colorado Pride to capture the 2015 W-League title. Tori hopes to add to the Spirit’s trophy case this season as the full team looks to build off of two back-to-back 4th place finishes.
While the phrase Spirit Family holds a special meaning for Tori Huster, it’s also true that she holds a special place among Spirit fans. Washington has gone through a lot of changes since the inception of the NWSL in 2013. From a last place finish and compiling just two wins at home in 2013, to losing only once at the Soccerplex a season ago and back-to-back playoff appearances prior to this season, change has been about the only constant for the club.
The club has only three holdovers from the original roster, Ali Krieger, Diana Matheson and Huster, who is the sole non-allocated player that remains. Huster has seen the field for the Spirit 64 times in that period (including playoffs), the most of any player in the team’s history.
“Even though we were bad, even though we were unsuccessful (in the first year), even though we had a coaching change, they were still here, they were still providing support for us that will be near and dear to me for the remaining years I am at the Spirit and the remaining years throughout my career. I’ll always remember the fact that they were here no matter.”
While Huster has been one of the near constants for the club, she’s seen her role change as the team has evolved. With the team hammered by injuries during the league’s inaugural season, Huster was forced to move from her natural defensive midfielder position to center back while also filling in elsewhere in the back when needed.
Huster excelled at the position and was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the Spirit. At the end of the season, she earned the club’s Defender of the Year award. She said that winning the award especially in a new position “meant a lot” to her and is something she’s proud of.
The Florida State product was quick credit her teammates Krieger, Candace Chapman and Ashlyn Harris with helping transition to the position.
“I was lucky that I had them around me because if it had been under any other circumstance, it could have been a very different situation and the position could have been a lot harder for me but (I) was able to focus on you know the little tips and advice they were giving me and then just tried to combine that with some hard work.”
Huster started the 2014 season at center back, but was able to transition back to defensive midfield where she quickly established herself as one of the league’s best in the position. In January 2015, she earned a call up to the U.S. national team.
Although winning the club’s defender of year in a new position encapsulates the type of player Huster is, perhaps a look at the concourse on game day is even better. Since the inaugural season, it’s not unusual to see fans donning Huster’s number 23 jersey on game day. Generally, jersey sales are dominated by flashy players who score or perhaps those who are regulars on the U.S. national team. Huster’s skill set is the type often overlooked by fans. Typically, people pay far less attention to the players preventing goals than those scoring them.
While the Spirit enjoyed their most successful season on the field last year, 2015 was difficult for Huster. The midfielder battled injury and played in only 17 games with 13 starts during the regular season, both career lows with the Spirit. This year she hopes to stay healthy. Her other goal is to be a more consistent player.
“I would really just like to be a consistent player, consistently hard to play against….The attacking players (in this league) are great, but to make their jobs harder and their lives harder during games is basically my goal,” Huster said about the new season.
As for the team’s goals, Huster echoed the sentiments of a lot of her teammates – the Spirit don’t want to be a perennial 4th place team, they want to make it further than the semifinals.
“We were disappointed to lose in the semifinal,” Huster said about the team’s last two seasons, “We want to be a team that contends for championships and wins regular season titles as well. I think every year we’ve tried to progress so hopefully we can continue to move up in our accolades.”
Huster and the Spirit have started the 2016 campaign off well. Going into the third week of the season, Washington is atop of the table, with 2 wins and Huster has played every minute of the season so far. The team will go for win number three Friday against the Western New York Flash.