Tori Burnett started playing soccer when she was four and her path has taken her from youth soccer to the University of Minnesota, where she and the Gophers won the Big 10 title, and into coaching where she is one of the few women on the coaching staff of any USL or NPSL club and the only one in the Midwest.
“I started playing with Pride Soccer Club [in Colorado Springs] and we had the coolest purple jerseys with the old school Umbro diamond-pattern shorts” said Burnett.
She laughs and continues, “My parents would have to tie stuffed animals to the goal we were attacking so we wouldn’t score on ourselves. My first coach with Nancy Darr, and looking back on it I was really lucky to have an awesome female coach introduce me to a game I now love so much. She was incredible and patient with the team, first named Kangaroos and then renamed the Firecrackers when we adopted the bold choice of pink and yellow jerseys.”
As she grew older, she became more serious about soccer--which is how she ended up in Minneapolis.
“When I was 14, I was on a team coached by Sian Hudson, captain of the Welsh National Team” Burnett remembers. “She completely changed my trajectory and that of the club. We started to attend bigger showcases and eventually found ourselves playing in front of 40-50 college coaches and I started to get looks from bigger schools.”
“My junior year, I set off on a little road trip with my parents to see schools on my final list. We went to Minneapolis first and I was excited to be so close to a big city with so much energy and how welcoming the players and coaches were during my time on campus. That hospitality made all the difference.”
She was a standout at Minnesota, a key part of the Gophers teams that returned to the top of the Big 10.
“It was a tight knit group because we were all cut from the same cloth. Growing up, we were all good players, but never the best of the best. We got recruited because we were gritty and could put our head down and work hard, and we brought that with us to college” said Burnett about her time at the U. “It was great to win the Big 10, and to do it at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie stadium. We faced a good Rutgers team that had gone to the Final Four the season before and absolutely crushed us my first two years. It was a great game, decided with six minutes left when Emily Heslin hit a banger to make it 2-1. It was great for the whole team, to have done it with my entire family there to watch, and someone decided I played well and I was named Defender of the Tournament.”
From there, she got into coaching and it was there that her City connection started. “The Oliver twins asked if I wanted to help them coach a U13 girls team in the summer to make a few extra bucks” said Burnett. “I thought it would be fun and a good chance to work off my sock tan and that’s how my coaching career was born!”
She’s proven to be a strong coach and has served as an assistant at Macalester in addition to Minneapolis City.
“I am extremely excited to be working with the level of player that City attracts. These men are some of the best in the nation, and having them all under one roof competing together brings some intense energy not felt on many other fields. Learning from these players and these coaches has already been a major boost to my coaching creativity and energy.”
“When Matt [vanBenschoten] told me that he wanted to bring her in, I was pumped” said Technical Director Adam Pribyl. “I found out later that she and Alli [Lipsher, now goalkeeper coach at the new NWSL side in Kansas City] were the only women coaching in the NPSL. Other teams’ loss is our win. They’re top coaches.”
Matt vanBenschoten, the head coach, chimes in, “Tori is one of the few coaches I’ve met who has the ability to demand high standards of players while also understanding the needs of individual players. Her confidence and enthusiasm are only rivaled by her deep understanding of the game. We are fortunate to have her with us for another season as she is a huge addition to the Crows staff.“
As a club, City has grown organically because existing fans and members spread the work to friends and co-workers. That’s how it works with the front office and coaching staff, too.
“This past summer I was running a camp session when Coach Matt walked by” laughed Burnett. “I must have done an okay job as he sought me out a few weeks later to pick my brain and see if I was interested in joining City. I had a few talks with him and we found ourselves in a pretty awesome opportunity.”
“I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to work with amazing players, coaches, and staff!”