Year in and year out, followers of the NWSL Draft can predict typical headline makers with ease. There’s the top overall pick, trades galore, and U.S. women’s national team invitees finally get to break through to the pros. One would usually not typically bet on Kanye West, groundskeepers, or Tasha Kai to be part of the post-draft discussions.
Tziarra King, however, is not your typical NWSL Draft pick. Her infectious smile and go with the flow attitude stole her share of the headlines on draft night, dancing her way through her first day as a professional athlete. When one of her favorite Kanye songs comes on in a press scrum, she starts to dance.
“It was an old school one, it wasn’t like one of the newer Kanye songs,” says King with a laugh, attempting to recreate the moment. “It had to be either Champion or you know what it might have been? It might have been Good Life. Yeah!”
Whatever the track may have been, King had announced herself to NWSL fans from coast to coast.
King’s journey with the beautiful game started by running around the sidelines of her two older brothers youth soccer games in her hometown of Sicklerville, N.J. At age four, she signed on to her local Pee Wee youth club, and immediately had an affinity for the sport.
“Growing up, I did soccer and dance,” King said. “Once I got more serious about soccer, I had to give up dance, but dance has always been my thing. From there, I always stuck with it, I played club, played on a few different teams before my dad said ‘Yeah, let’s start our own team,’ and we said ‘Alright, cool!’ So we started our own team, and I played on that team from age eight through high school.”
Throughout high school, King not only excelled on the pitch, but on the track as well, becoming a New Jersey state champion in both the indoor and outdoor 4×400 in her junior year. However, with 105 goals and 36 assists over four years at Winslow Township high school, King’s future path was clear. From New Jersey she packed her bags and headed down I-95 to attend college at North Carolina State, part of the legendary ACC conference. Right out of high school, King would be facing powerhouses such as UNC, Virginia, and Florida State, week in and week out.
“Going to play in the ACC was really tough,” King said. “The pace is a lot quicker in college to start, but once you go to the ACC it is a completely different beast. So, I really like to dribble, so going in I was focused on my dribbling, taking players on. And my coach said, ‘Look, I know this is your speciality and I love to see you do that, but make sure you’re deciding when to dribble and when to pass. When you’re in the ACC, defenders body up the ball. It’s a lot quicker pace here.’ “
King may say adjusting to the ACC was a challenge, but nothing about her performance at NC State reflects that. With 48 goals, 19 assists, and countless plaudits to her name, King could easily have highlighted her successes at NC State when she was drafted. However, King is someone who takes time to connect with the people that are a part of her journey.
That connection was none more evident than her speech on draft day. Above all else, she thanked the groundskeepers, equipment managers, and sports psychologists at NC State for bringing her to Baltimore and to the start of her life as a professional athlete.
Not something you hear every draft season.
“I thought it was so funny that so many people thought it was a big deal – it’s just so normal to me. I’m just thanking the people that helped me,” King said. “I spent so much time in the equipment manager’s office, chatting, talking about life. The sports psychology department was so helpful grounding me, reminding me why you’re there, why you love the game, what your goals are.”
King’s voice springs to life, as memories of her time with NC State’s athletic department fill her consciousness. “I remember one time I was in the equipment manager’s office, and one of the groundskeepers came in soaked. I’m talking about, like, pouring rain outside. And he comes in asking for an extra pair of socks because he’s working the softball game next door and his socks got soaking wet. That really was the moment where I said to myself, ‘Wow, these people dedicate so much of their time to athletes like myself, just so we get to play the game we love so much.’
“From there, I had a great appreciation for them. Especially because they don’t owe us anything. It’s so easy for athletes to get caught up, like ‘I’m so cool” this and that,’ ” King said. “We often don’t take a chance to remember the people who actually care for us. That’s why I felt like it was so important for me to take that moment. There were so many more people I wanted to thank – sports medicine, academic advisors, even the person who cleans the athletic building. I said hi to her every morning when I saw her. Those small connections are so important to me.”
— Tziarra King (@tziarra) January 17, 2020
Now, King’s journey with soccer comes full circle. The kid who met Tasha Kai at her first Sky Blue FC game growing up in New Jersey now will now be facing her hometown club. It’s a step forward in her life and an honor that leaves her as speechless as when she was first selected.
“It’s crazy,” King said. “It’s really what your dreams are made of. Honestly. There’s no words to describe the feeling. Even when I look at the picture that I posted now, I get chills. All these years later, who ever thought? I kind of talked about it before, but when you’re younger you say ‘Wow, how cool would it be to grow up and be a professional athlete?’ That doesn’t happen to a lot of people. Just to have the opportunity to even have a shot at that is just so amazing. I’m over the moon about it, honestly. Ecstatic.”
Much like Kai and the Sky Blue team she watched growing up, King is bringing a load of offensive firepower to a team that is overflowing in that same department. When King steps onto the training pitch in Utah for the first time, the prowess of Vero Boquete, Amy Rodriguez, and Christen Press will be there to meet her. For King, she’s ready to learn from all of them:
“Obviously, the power on our team, honestly, every single person has so many important lessons that they can teach me,” King said. “In that regard, I’m just really excited to be playing with such seasoned veterans and amazing players. I hope that they can help me with this transition, help me understand the game better, and how to play on this level.”
However, she does admit that, after Christen Press’s curler against Costa Rica, she might have a few specific questions to ask the American forward.
“Oh, absolutely,” King said. “That technique, wow. She’s balling.”
Much like her transition from high school to the ACC, King finds herself in a completely new and challenging league as she prepares for NWSL action. A reloaded Sky Blue FC, a younger and turned over Portland Thorns FC side, and repeating champions North Carolina Courage as well as the rest of the league are gunning for the top of the standings this season alongside a hungry and rejuvenated Utah Royals FC team that fell short of the playoffs in 2019.
“Everyone is excited to play the defending champs and how you match up to them,” King said. “I think, first and foremost, I’m excited to be in practice and go against my teammates – how I fit in and how our program’s going to look. From there, I’ll be excited for the first scrimmage, the first everything, to be honest. I’m excited for it all.”