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Portland Thorns defender Kelli Hubly on her journey from temporary player to NWSL mainstay

10:00 pm AEDT 2/3/22
Kelli Hubly Portland Thorns 2021
The 27-year-old nearly quit the game entirely in college, but has become a key player for one of the league's top teams

Kelli Hubly has spoken to GOAL about her rise to prominence in the NWSL, which has taken her from believing her career was over after a traumatic college experience to starring for one of the league's best teams.

Hubly is about to begin her sixth year in the league, and has become an integral part of the Portland Thorns after entering as an unheralded national-team replacement player in 2017.

But Hubly almost never reached the pro level, revealing last year that she played under a coach in college who nearly drove her to quit the game entirely.

A difficult college experience

Amid a reckoning in the game over abusive coaches last year, Hubly took to Twitter to share her own story in December.

Hubly said that in college at the University of Kentucky, her coach called her "lazy" after she failed a fitness test and suspended her from the team, though it later turned out she had an autoimmune disorder called Graves' disease that held her back physically.

"A lot of people still don't know that about me," Hubly told GOAL on All of US: The U.S. Women's Soccer Show. "And when I posted that they were like, 'Wait, what? I had no idea.'

"It was a good time to share my story. Everyone coming out this past year is giving people support that they can come out as well.

"I felt alone and I want people to know that there are other people who have gone through this. You're not alone. It's not embarrassing.

"I wanted to help other girls who've gone through it. Like see someone come out the other end on top, and [know] there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can still achieve any dream you want to after going through that."

Hubly makes her mark in Portland

Though she entered the league as an unheralded player, Hubly managed to stick with the Thorns and has developed into a key defender for last season's NWSL Shield winners.

But after Hubly left the University of Kentucky and transferred to DePaul University in her hometown of Chicago, she simply wanted to rediscover her love for the game.

After sitting out a year she starred at DePaul and, though she went undrafted, she landed a short-term deal in Portland when the Thorns were in need of reinforcements with players away on international duty.

"My first year I just went [to Portland] and was like, 'OK, I'm going to try, if I hate it, I'll leave.'

"I needed that first year here not being rostered to grow into the player I wanted to be. I still needed to get my mind working again, because it was hard not doing anything for a year.

"At that moment, I don't think I ever saw myself being where I am today. But I also knew I had a lot of potential that I'd never even tapped into.

"So I feel really fortunate to have landed in a place where they have helped me grow. They've given me the freedom to find who I am as a player and embrace that. And each year I feel like the ceiling just keeps getting taller – there is no ceiling for me."

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