Raisa Strom-Okimoto was a fan favorite and the favorite to score whenever she took the field for the University of Hawaii soccer team. She’s had about nine months since her last college soccer game and has been playing professionally for the Utah Royals of the NWSL on a national team replacement contract. But once the World Cup ended the national team players began to return. That means Strom-Okimoto’s contract would have been up. But before Raisa’s pro stint could end – just last week – Utah re-signed her for the rest of the season.
Big things were in store for Raisa Strom-Okimoto when she started playing soccer. Her star rose through her career at Aiea High School. She fulfilled a lifelong dream of representing her home state; playing for the Rainbow Wahine.
A great career builds landmarks along the way. One of Raisa’s was an overtime clinching goal as a senior. Another: winning the Big West player of the year that same season.
But soccer wasn’t pau for Strom-Okimoto after she graduated. She got an invite to training camp for the Utah Royals of the National Women’s Soccer League and then made the team.
“Just being away from my family and friends, it’s rough,” expressed Strom-Okimoto via FaceTime. “But at the end of the day I’m here to follow my dreams and play something that I love. So at the end of the day it’s worth it.”
Her sacrifice began to pay off in games number nine and ten, when Raisa got her first pro minutes.
“After the first couple minutes once you start getting into it, it’s kind of just playing the game that you’ve been playing your whole life,” explained Strom-Okimoto. “And it just comes naturally. So once the nerves got kicked out I was just playing something I loved.”
Most soccer fans know Christen Press as the forward who scored a key goal for the U.S. In semifinals of the World Cup. Raisa (also a forward) knows her as the player whose absence gave her a shot in the pros. But as Press returned from world championship glory, Strom-Okimoto’s time was running out. Until it wasn’t.
“It’s a funny story how I found out. I had actually gotten hurt during training. I sprained my ankle,” said Strom-Okimoto. “So I’d been out for like a whole week. When I was hurt with the trainer the coach came up to me and she’s asking how I’m doing. And she’s like. ‘Sorry for the bad news but I have good news.’ And she told me that I would be contracted for the whole season. Before that I was so frustrated, getting hurt an injured. She came in with this news and I was just shocked.”
Seven Utah players were on national teams, three of them on the back-to-back champion United States squad. Their impact is felt throughout the NWSL.
“With the US team really voicing their opinion it’s ultimately good for all of us,” explained Strom-Okimoto. “Because when the national team players come back, this is the league that they all play in. So they want the best for not just themselves but all of us to get that kind of exposure.”
The momentum kept building off the Women’s World Cup. Budweiser was announced as a major sponsor for the NWSL during the tournament. And ESPN is now set to start televising the NWSL games.