I wrote this piece four years ago. It was once part of a longer article dissecting a particular game from the 2017 season. But I wanted to rescue it, because it still feels very appropriate. The Washington Spirit sit in fourth place at the moment. That's not particularly surprising in and of itself. But what's weird is that the Spirit haven't really clicked yet this year. There's been a lot of attention paid to the the young attacking duo of Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez, and quite rightly. They're great! Given the Olympic roster conversations, there's also been a lot of focus on Andi Sullivan, who is also great.
But I think it's worth highlighting Tori Huster, the longest-serving Spirit player (she's been there right from the start of the league), who continues to put out excellent performances week after week and year after year. She's arguably been the Spirit's best player this year, and done so while shuttling between three or four different positions. That kind of range is a huge part of the team's flexibility.
So let's all take a moment to think about what has made Huster such a great, and sadly underrated player over the years...
In this game, we focus a great deal on the players who do things. And for good reason. Most of the time, the action is…well, where the action is. But there is always a lot more going on than just what’s happening near the ball. And there is no player in the league who better illustrates this point than Tori Huster.
Watching her reminds me of Vicente del Bosque’s praise of Sergio Busquets: “If you watch the whole game, you won’t see Busquets—but watch Busquets, and you will see the whole game.” Huster is a similar player. Watch her and you’ll see the whole game.
That’s because so much of what she’s doing never shows up in plays that go into the box score. She’ll win her share of tackles and make her share of passes, sure, but more than anything she’s a shepherd. Her job is to make sure everything stays on course, not necessarily to do it herself.
And it takes incredible discipline to successfully play this way. You need someone who will run endlessly just to make sure that the passing channels stay clogged. Who can see play in motion and anticipate where someone will need to be. Who can cover for her teammates when they’re dragged out of position. Who can understand the team’s shape as it ebbs and flows and keep everyone working together.
It’s a cliché when talking about a ‘weak’ team who is tough to score against to say “they’re just really well organized,” but we don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about where that organization comes from. Obviously, coaching is immensely important here, but it also takes a lot of work from the players on the pitch to actually execute the plan. And it depends in particular on the field general who can keep everyone marching to the same tune.
Watch Washington play with her on the pitch and notice how often she’s pointing—drop into this space, protect that flank, watch your blind side, pass into that channel, and so on. Watch to see how often she’s moving ahead of the play—protecting space that’s not threatened yet, but which is about to be attacked. Watch to see how assiduously she manages breakaway attacks—not looking to make a spectacular (but risky) tackle; trusting that her defense will be able to stifle the attack if she can just give them the time to reset.
But more than anything, watch to see how often the opponent seems strangely quiet on the night—unable to find those penetrating runs, unable to successfully isolate and turn defenders, unable to do much of anything with all the possession that they seem to have.
There are plenty of flashy players in the league, and we rightly give them a lot of credit for the incredible things they can do. But I’m not sure there was any player more crucial to their team’s success this month than Tori Huster. That her contributions were so quiet only makes them that much more impressive.