In the 72nd minute against the University of Nebraska-Omaha on Sunday, things looked bleak for the Iowa State soccer team. They had failed to cash in on multiple opportunities and were running out of time to win the scoreless match.
Then, suddenly, an emerging prospect struck in the form of freshman Mira Emma.
After a beautifully placed cross kick into the center of the penalty box by Claudia Najera, Emma won the header and squeaked her shot into the left side of the goal beyond the outstretched hands of the Omaha goalkeeper.
It seemed as if Emma was a step ahead on the play, knowing what was going to happen next.
“Mira is really good at seeing things happen before they happen and that vision is a special quality that few players actually have,” said coach Tony Minatta.
The score was the first of her career, and one she will always remember.
“It was surreal; it’s always cool getting your first goal but it was cool especially because we needed a little spark at that time,” Emma said.
The goal would ended up being the only one of the match, securing the Iowa State victory and making Emma’s header even more timely. While it seemed effortless, the goal comes after a positional change for the freshman.
Emma, native of Wheaton, Illinois, was originally recruited by the Cyclones to be a midfield maestro. After training with the team for a bit, Minatta decided to alter her role to more of a playmaking forward.
Fortunately enough, Emma welcomed the switch.
“I’m always just willing to do what is best for the team, so whenever my name is called, I’m ready,” Emma said.
Emma’s impact with the program was felt immediately as she scored in both of the exhibition wins for Iowa State. Within a couple of weeks, she cracked the starting lineup against Purdue. Since then, Emma hasn’t turned back.
“You’re always looking for someone that can connect the game and be smart with the ball, and she’s definitely that type of player,” Minatta said.
Through six games on the year, Emma is tied with redshirt freshman Kenady Adams in total points with three. Her shot percentage of .167 is also tied for the highest on the team with fellow true freshman Abbey Van Wyngarden.
“She is able to see the field very quickly and that helps our offense with our creativity,” said senior Hannah Cade.
Emma’s field awareness helped her succeed prior to college, placing in the top 21 of Top Drawer Soccer’s Regional Rankings in the spring of 2017. She was a club member of the successful Chicago Sockers FC, garnering a U.S. Soccer Training Invite in 2014.
In fact, her maturity and savviness for the game was something Minatta saw the moment she attended a camp at Iowa State.
“From the start, I was like ‘wow, she really plays above her age,’” Minatta said.
The high IQ she displays for the game has helped Emma make up for things she lacks in, such as height. Standing at five-foot-three, Emma by no means towers over defenders or is able to physically push through them.
Nevertheless, Emma embraces the challenge, even at the Power-Five conference level.
“It’s all about mentality and choice whether you want to do it or not, and I enjoy doing what I do,” Emma said. "Once you get to this level, it’s not really about age or height; we’re all great players, so it’s more of just a matter of keeping that consistency.”
According to Minatta, one thing that has helped the freshman adjust so quickly to the college level has been that ability to be in the moment.
“Mira is very composed and 'unflakable' in the fact that she doesn’t seem to feel pressure,” Minatta said.
Even with the technical and in-game praise Emma receives, her teammates believe that her selflessness is the best quality she possesses.
“She has a huge heart and helps the team out by doing what we need her to do," Cade said. "She’s really just a stand-out girl."
Being the center of attention is certainly not Emma’s preference, but it is hard not to be when she is setting up and scoring goals the way she has so far.
With three years and counting left in a Cyclone uniform, it should be exciting to see what she can accomplish going forward.
“She is barely scratching the surface of her potential," Minatta said. "She has all the technical tools and understanding to take her game to the next level in the future."