Nadia Gomes, the standout forward who just finished her collegiate career at Brigham Young University, had a dream to play professional soccer. The Portuguese-born soccer player hails from a country where women’s soccer is not given the same attention as the men’s, and at one time, women’s soccer was taboo in Portugal. To put it in perspective, the women’s national team is ranked 38th in the FIFA rankings, while the men are ranked 3rd in the world.
Growing up, Gomes remembers not seeing women’s soccer in Portugal. Still, she was fascinated by the sport, watching it and playing it. Women’s soccer is growing in Portugal, however, but it is not on the same level as women’s in the U.S. where the U.S. Women’s National Team is ranked number one and have a highly competitive women’s soccer league, the NWSL, that is going into its sixth season.
When her mother married a missionary, Gomes and her family moved to Utah. “It was interesting,” she said in our phone interview, “I didn’t know English.” She had to learn an entirely new language, which was hard.
She also had to adapt to a new culture and a different school system and make new friends. There was definitely culture shock for the 11-year-old, but Gomes began to play club soccer where her stepdad was her coach, and from there soccer provided a path to comfort in a new country.
For college, Gomes went to Brigham Young University, where she could continue pursuing her passion. Though Gomes was nervous to enter the college ranks, she now appreciates her time at BYU.
“It was a really good experience,” she says. “It was welcoming, [providing] a family feel with the Mormon connection. I learned a lot from the players like Ashley Hatch.”
Playing all four years, Gomes scored 23 goals and recorded 23 assists with 217 shots at BYU and served as a team captain. In 2017 alone, Gomes scored five goals and assisted in four, earning All-WCC Honorable Mention. In 2015, Gomes was recognized as WCC Player of the Year.
But college only gives a player four years, and Gomes knew that from the moment she came to the U.S., her goal was to continue playing for as long as possible. When she started to get recognized as a sophomore as the WCC Player of the Year, the dream of turning pro was becoming more attainable.
She registered for the 2018 NWSL College Draft at the end of her collegiate career and was invited to be a part of the day in Philadelphia on January 18.
When we spoke the day before the draft, Gomes was nervous but excited. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said, hopeful to gain more experience. “Every player is growing [in the league].”
Playing in the NWSL would also be a good outlet for Gomes to be noticed by the Portuguese National Team. Gomes has played as a fullback with the Portugal U-19 team, and she also hopes of playing with the country’s senior team one day.
As the draft entered the third round, Gomes waited for her name to be called. She would not wait for too long. The Orlando Pride, with their only pick of the day, selected Gomes as the 23rd overall draft pick, impressed by her versatility, ability, and potential. Gomes beamed from the podium as she thanked her new team and her family, who has always been supportive of her dream.
Gomes’ dream to continue playing the sport she grew to love as a young girl is now a reality as a professional player. She goes to the NWSL representing her country and her adopted home state of Utah, a place she was only supposed to live for six months until her family decided to stay and call Utah home.
“It means a lot to me being from Utah to be playing in the NWSL. Utah has an amazing network of soccer programs and players. I am proud to have played at all levels of soccer in Utah and am especially proud to have played at one of the best programs in Utah at BYU. I am excited to represent my college and my state in the NWSL,” Gomes said after the draft.
Utah, no matter where Gomes goes, will always be home.