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Mar, 2022

From Internationals SC to Stanford University: The Story of Mia Bhuta

By John Krysinsky/Pittsburgh Soccer Now 

Most aspiring soccer players spend a lot more time on the field training than they do traveling.

Mia Bhuta's path to soccer success has meant spending a lot more time in the car being productive, preparing for the next school day under the faint view of the dome lights in the car.

And that's just fine with her.

When asked what are some words that could be used to describe her, without explanation, she offered a few.  "Driven. Positive. And, imaginative," Bhuta stated.  

Thus, with the assistance of her family, Bhuta's self-driven approach has included making multiple trips every week to Northeast Ohio from her Mt. Lebanon home since she was 11 years old to train with the Internationals Soccer Club, based out of Medina, Ohio.

A little more than a half decade later, Bhuta's extra mileage has paid dividends.  In late 2021, she announced her commitment to Stanford University, where she plans to enroll and start in January 2023.  In addition, Bhuta has become a regular part of the United States Women's National Team's U-17 player pool.

Growing up in Mt. Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb, Bhuta began her soccer development in her backyard, learning the basics and playing with her father and siblings.

"I learned a lot about the game when I was very young, and started playing with my dad and my brother," Bhuta said. "We watched drills on YouTube and tried them on the field."

By the time she was old enough, she fully embraced the sport, learning advanced technical skills by attending the new Riverhounds Development Academy technical training program while she also began playing competitively with Century United.

"I was fortunate to have some really good coaches early on who pushed me to work as hard as I can," Bhuta said. “Mike Blatz was one of those coaches at Century who helped me fall in love with the game and taught me a lot about soccer.  With the Riverhounds, it was Jason Kutney, who helped me develop my skills.  Without those two, I don't think I'd be anywhere near the player I am today."

When provided with an opportunity to take part in monthly training centers with former decorated former USWNT player and coach Keri Sarver, Bhuta took advantage of a program that would further her progression as a player and pathway to an even higher level of training and development.

"It was clear from the beginning, there was something special about her," Sarver stated. "She's focused.  Competitive.  She's willing to put in the work to improve her skills.  She has tremendous confidence on the ball.  She always wants to get better and she's a real student of the game."

With each training center visit, Bhuta was drawn to keep getting better and found a coach who could help her take that next step in her development.

"It was the National Team experience that she has.  She's seen players at the highest level.  She knows what the standard is to be able to play there," Bhuta explained, which made her and her family make the commitment to travel to and from Northeast Ohio to train with Sarver on a regular basis with the Internationals.

"I wanted to invest in my time with the Internationals to be under her guidance and be under a strong female leader who's made a name for herself in the sport and to constantly be held to her standard," Bhuta added.

With a coach with Sarver's credentials and a well-established soccer club that's been around since the 1970s, Bhuta was all in with the Internationals SC.  

"She's spent many hours on the road, and has been willing to make a commitment to train and play with our program," Sarver said. "She saw something in us, and we take that as a compliment.  It's been a good partnership.  We're a small club.  We have a set of core values that are important both on the field and off the field.  We look for players that have intangibles, who are competitive, who are observant in training.  She has all of those qualities.''  

In the time she's been with the Internationals, training and playing competitively in the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), Bhuta's grown even more as a player. 

"You can clearly see, from her skills on the ball, even when she first joined us, since she was young she fell in love with the ball at her feet,” Sarver added. “So, she had the skill set, the athleticism, the coordination.  We provide a holistic approach in the development of all players.  The little things matter.  She had an individual development plan and played up a level in competition and never missed a beat."  

Bhuta's exceptional foot skills and vision have made her a natural to play in the central midfield, where she has thrived on the field.  

"I'm a holding midfielder,” Bhuta explained. “But growing up, I've always been an attacking minded player.  I play more like a box-to-box midfielder.  Whenever there's an opportunity to attack, I like to use a penetrating dribble to attack the lines and engage the opponent, but at the same time, I really value the defensive side.  I like to look to create as many goal scoring opportunities as possible while being ready for any counter measures that might happen so I can get pressure back on the ball and delay the attack from the other team.  So really, I'm a box-to-box midfielder."

One of the things that Sarver saw in Bhuta's future was a chance to be identified to be part of the United States National Women's Soccer team program pool of players among her age group.  

With her sights set on playing at the highest level, Bhuta looks up to the current and recent USWNT players who've set a high standard. 

"There are so many players I look up to, especially on the Women's National Team,” Bhuta said. “They really inspire me.  To see all the barriers that they've broken.  What they've done to grow the sport for girls all around the world.  I really hope to follow in their footsteps and learn as much as I can from what they've done even outside of sports fighting for gender equality and pay.  Julie Ertz is someone that I really try to play like her.  She can really dominate in the midfield.  She has a really large presence and overall she's a great leader and teammate, so I really look up to her, and try to play like her."

Sure enough, Bhuta has earned a spot in the mix of the best players in her age group in the U.S., now having been part of numerous training camps, and now part of the USWNT's U-17 team that is preparing for CONCACAF Championship to be played in the Dominican Republic in May.  

As one of 28 players selected to be on the USWNT's U17 roster, she spent a week in early February training in Bradenton at the IMG Academy.  

"It's become a close group,”  Bhuta shared. “We're starting to play together really well.  I feel comfortable expressing myself in that environment and in my abilities, making an impact.  There are no guarantees for a roster spot.  You're in a pool.  You have to fight as hard as you can to win and keep your spot.  We're all comfortable, but just not too comfortable, so we're continuously pushing ourselves to be the best we can, while also getting to know each other playing as a team.  National team camps are amazing.  I love being in that environment.  It's super competitive.  Everyone is working as hard as they can.  It's nice to be surrounded by so many young women who want to make an impact in the sports world and it's really inspiring.  I love being there."

Bhuta is also honed in on her future.  

Currently a senior at Mt. Lebanon High School, originally she committed to UCLA, but has since changed that commitment.  She still wants to go to the West Coast, and will be at Stanford University.  

"UCLA's coaches decided to leave and pursue an opportunity to coach a professional NWSL team,” Bhuta explained. “Ever since I was young, Stanford and UCLA were the two schools for me.  At Stanford, their academic reputation is incredible.  In athletics, they're always a constant competitor for national titles and they have a history of developing national team players.  The Stanford community, the people there, the professors, the coaches, they really push you to be the best you can be at your passions, to be better in society and make an impact on the world."

Stanford recently won an NCAA Women's National Championship in 2019.  

"Stanford is a quality program that sets high standards, both on the field and academically," Sarver said. "It's an environment where she can thrive and grow," Bhuta added.  

Bhuta is also excited about her academic pursuits at Stanford, adding that she is interested in neuroscience, technology, and entrepreneurship but noted that at Stanford, freshman are not allowed to declare a major, so she has some time to explore emerging fields and learn more at one of the best institutions of higher learning in the country.   

When asked what stands out the most about Bhuta, Sarver had a one-word answer.  

"Grit," Sarver said. "That's the biggest thing.  It may look easy, but to do what she's doing, takes a lot of persistence.  A lot of sacrifice.  There are no guarantees.  It's always been her choice.  I give her a lot of credit.  She's taken control and is doing what she wants.  She has found her pathway.  We're super proud of her.  It's a joy and pleasure to coach her."  

It should be an eventful 2022 for Bhuta, who will graduate from Mt. Lebanon a year early, so she can pursue her ambitions that include being a part of the USWNT and attending Stanford.  

"I owe a lot of it to the people around me," Bhuta said. “I have a really supportive family.  My siblings are always there for me whenever I need anything, like my brother driving me to the field or to the gym.  My parents have been super supportive.  I can't drive yet, so they're the ones who are driving me two hours each way.  They help me stay balanced.  Help me with what I need to get done, but also let me live a normal life, like getting my school work done and being with friends.  I owe a big part of who I am to them.  They helped me grow as a whole person.”

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