When Mia Bhuta, a midfielder of the United States U-17 Women’s football team, took her flight to India for the FIFA World Cup, she was not leaving home. She was coming to one.
In the opening game against India, Mia assisted from a corner kick and scored a left-footed stunner as the United States decimated India 8-0 in Bhubaneswar.
“My grandfather is in the hospital, undergoing bypass surgery. This goal was for him,” she said after the match.
Mia is the only player of Indian descent in Team USA and has 10 caps with the national team, in which she has scored thrice. Her dad is from Rajkot, a city in Gujarat and her grandparents still live in the country.
“I think just being here, it's amazing. I'm so glad I can share this journey with my teammates and expose them to our culture,” Mia says.
“And I'm just so grateful for my Indian heritage. All the people in my life are always supporting me and for all the lessons they've taught me,” she adds.
Getting ready for school in a car to entering Stanford University
Mia grew up in Mt. Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb, developing her skills by watching YouTube videos and playing with her father Vyom and brother Noah.
Since she was 11 years old, Mia had to make multiple trips every week to Northeast Ohio from her home (in Mt. Lebanon) to train with the Internationals Soccer Club in Medina – a club which had her current teammate Victoria Safradin in the same batch.
To continue playing, Mia spent most of her time in the car, travelling and then preparing for the next school day, in the car. Her struggle has finally paid dividends.
The 16-year-old is verbally committed to Stanford University – the third-best University in the world, according to the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR). She is a regular in the U-17 Women’s National team, often leading the team as well.
“I’ve been training for this moment since I’ve started playing soccer,” she tells Sportstar, “it’s been a long journey and has required a lot of hard work, but I think, the support from my family, my coaches and my teammates around me have made the journey a lot easier.”
A father’s tears of happiness on World Cup selection
Mia has established herself as one of the most reliable midfielders. Playing as a holding midfielder in head coach Natalia Astrin’s eleven, she has looked menacing on the counter-attacks.
She was one of the key players in the US team that won the U-17 CONCACAF Championship, beating Mexico in the final.
Talking about her father’s reaction to her playing in India, she says that he broke down in happiness after getting the news.
“I think we found out about the possibility of the World Cup being here a while ago because it was supposed to happen in the old cycle. but as soon as he found out that it will be here, we were even more motivated to work hard and do our best for the team,” she says.
“But when he found out that I was on the roster, I think he was crying because he was super happy, not only for me or what I could do here, but he also understands the influence my team or every other team would have on u17 girls and rest of the teams in the world.”
A large chunk of Mia’s family was in the stands when she scored the goal. “With so many people here at the stadium, I was scanning the crowd to find them but I’m extremely grateful for them and it’s always nice to play with them around,” she says.
‘If you can see it, you can be it’
After her first press conference, Mia Bhuta, along with two of her teammates – Riley Jackson and Victoria, and coach Natalia Astrain – distributed football gear to Indian girls, who aspire to be future footballers.
“I'm another Indian who's out here living my dreams. I want them to believe in themselves just as much as I do. I've seen how much potential so many of these young girls have so I really just want to do whatever I can,” she said.
She says that the World Cup will have a ‘huge impact, not just on the Indian girls but also across the world.’
“For the Indian girls, I really want them to be exposed to the high-level soccer that we play here. Someone once told me, ‘If you can see it, you can be it’ and I think that’s something that is really important.
If they can see us playing at a high level, I think that can influence them to dream big, not only in sports but in all aspects of their lives,” she added.
World Cup ambitions with the USA
The United States is drawn in Group A with Brazil, Morocco and host India. Since the 2008 edition of the tournament, it has not been able to go beyond the group stage.
The United States – with Mia in midfield – will have its eyes on history as it looks to change it in India this year.
“Playing in World Cup is something that I've dreamed about ever since I was young. I think any little girl; from the second we touch the ball, we start working hard with the dream of one day being in this stage,” says Mia.
When the stage arrived, she delivered, scoring with her left foot and celebrating in front of her family in their ‘home’.
“When I hear my dad’s story and stories of other Indians who look to pursue more, the values of hard work and really focusing on your education, sports and entrepreneurship really stand out to me. I think that is where I get my hard work ethic from, it's why I've learned to really be a dreamer,” she says.
Mia’s father had left India for the United States in the 1970s on a tennis scholarship. He was 16. Three decades later, his daughter returns to India, also aged 16, for the World Cup.
If the American Dream needed an emissary, Mia Bhuta’s family is one.