KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The life of a trialist in soccer is a much different experience than being a free agent in other professional sports.

In leagues like the NFL and NBA, unrestricted free agents usually take a visit to teams they are interested in and sign a contract with a team of their choosing.

In soccer, players are brought in to practice with teams as trialists, but a contract isn’t guaranteed at all. Players can practice (and play preseason matches) with a team for several weeks and even months without signing a contract.

That was the life for Kansas City Current midfielder Croix Soto when she graduated from the University of Oregon without being selected in the 2023 NWSL Draft. She was then picked up by the North Carolina Courage in January after the draft.

“We have like a meeting. They explain everything,” Soto said. “They’re like, OK, like right now we don’t have any space for you. And you’re like, OK, but I’d still love to train. They’re like, we’d love to have you. Keep training, keep working hard.”

“I was just happy. I made friends. I was like, we can just all do this together ’cause my friends are trialists, too. So we were just there competing with each other, getting better every day.”

While in the midst of training in Carolina, Soto got her chance in March when the Current brought her in amid their injury crisis.

The Current are without several of their big-name defenders, including Canadian national Desi Scott, Elizabeth Ball and free agent signees Hanna Glas and Morgan Gautrat.

The Pasadena, California, native played 12 minutes in her first match with the Current in their 4-1 loss to the Chicago Red Stars on April 15.

Then came the firing of head coach Matt Potter after dropping the first three games of the season and mere hours before the Current opened Challenge Cup play against the Houston Dash.

The coaching change looks to have done nothing but help the Current as they’ve won three-straight matches since then, including three-straight shutouts.

The former All-Pac-12 player has been a starting center back in all three of those games, and the backline has seen vast improvements since Soto has stepped in.

“It’s leadership. She’s really mature,” interim head coach Caroline Sjöblom said. “She’s a leader, she’s communicating, she’s really quick. So if you go 1-vs-1… attacking against her, she’s defending you, she’ll outrun you often.”

“Yes, it was definitely a quick turnaround. It was mentally also just like, whoa. Like, OK, this is for real now. Like, you’re competing,” Soto said.

“And then I feel like at this level you have to really mentally prepare for the games. It’s not like when you’re younger in your youth days, you can just kind of show up like, here are the body preparation, the mental preparation, all of it.”

“You have to be on top of it in order to be your best during the game, which is what I’ve also learned being in a professional environment. But I feel like everybody’s been super helpful. Taking advantage of all of our treatments has also helped me a lot.”

Sjöblom also mentioned how rookie defender Gabby Robinson and her connection with veteran Vanessa DiBernardo has helped the backline. The switch from AD Franch to Cassie Miller at goalkeeper the past two matches is a factor as well.

But she doesn’t hesitate to heap praise on Soto.

“I don’t know what North Carolina did because they missed the diamond, and I’m really happy that we signed her,” Sjöblom said.

While Soto is off to a good start to her pro career, she’s had some moments where the adjustment to pro-level matches has been a tad overwhelming for her. But her teammates have reassured her in the game that she’s doing well.

But Soto is quick to sidestep compliments by saying the team is clicking and progressing at the right time.

So far, Soto’s story is a testament to young players and other trialists working to make a squad.

“You could get a call anytime basically ’cause these teams are constantly changing,” Soto said.

“Things are happening on the teams and you just have to be ready, which is kind of exciting, but kind of scary ’cause you’re like, ‘Am I ever gonna get a chance?’ But it’s like you will, you just have to like keep working at it.”