Nearly an hour after the final whistle blew on, midfielder Dani Weatherholt slowly worked her way to the tunnel. She had spent the last 47 minutes signing t-shirts and taking photos with every fan who asked, thanking them for coming out.
This is the norm for Weatherholt. She is always the last player to exit the pitch after every game, because for her, soccer is more than just a game.
In truth, Weatherholt almost missed out on being a part of the Pride. Leading up to the 2016 NWSL College Draft, Head Coach Tom Sermanni had limited knowledge of the Santa Clara University graduate. But Sermanni decided to take a chance on the young midfielder in the fourth round.
“For him to believe in me before I even got here was big,” Weatherholt said. “Being a fourth-round draft pick, they never held that against me. I was able to prove myself just like everyone else and make the team.”
That belief coupled with her determination has turned her into a crucial piece of the Pride’s midfield.
“When you come in as a rookie, nothing is guaranteed,” Weatherholt said. “I have to earn a spot and I have to do that every year.”
Weatherholt possesses a demeanor of someone who looks to prove themselves every day, viewing each day as an opportunity to get better.
“I try to bring a work rate that inspires others to work harder, both on and off the pitch,” Weatherholt said. “I think that is what people respect about me and it allows me to have that connection with my teammates, to push them and encourage them.”
In her rookie campaign, she appeared in 12 matches and then went on to play in 19 the following season. This year, with the exception of an excused absence, Weatherholt has played in every match for Orlando.
Despite her visible presence in the lineup, what she brings to the team goes way beyond statistics.
At first glance, Weatherholt's contributions add up to just two goals and an assist in three years, but what makes her so irreplaceable are her character traits that cannot be quantified.
“I have a quiet determination and simplicity, I try to be simple on the ball. Get it, move it,” Weatherholt said. “I also try to lead with my voice and communication.”
Now as the team gears up for the final push of the season, Weatherholt is still more focused on those around her than herself.
“I just hope that every time I play people see my passion, my heart and my character,” Weatherholt said. “To me, that is the most important thing.”
Perhaps that outlook is what makes the midfielder so relatable and is the very reason why her soccer goes beyond the statline.
“I don’t care about the stats as long as my team is winning, that’s the most important thing to me. I want people to see that I’m passionate and a good teammate,” Weatherholt finished. “That’s all I care about.”