Soccer pros

Razorback senior forward Parker Goins high-fives senior defender Haley VanFossen prior to facing Tennessee at Razorback Field on September 17. Goins and VanFossen are two of the three Hogs who have their professional rights owned by National Women’s Soccer League teams.

Three Arkansas soccer fifth-year seniors have their sights set on a national title in their last collegiate season before joining National Women’s Soccer League teams.

Taylor Malham, Parker Goins and Haley VanFossen’s professional rights were acquired by NWSL teams over the offseason and they will join their respective teams after the end the season.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NWSL filed a petition with the NCAA to allow players chosen in the 2021 draft to join their professional teams at the beginning of the 2021 season and forfeit their collegiate eligibility. Players could choose to return to college, and those players’ NWSL rights would be retained by their respective teams until the NWSL 2022 preseason.

Because the pandemic shortened the 2019-2020 athletic year, the NCAA allowed an extra year of eligibility to all athletes who were affected. The three Razorbacks chose to return to the UofA to put a bow on their collegiate careers before joining their NWSL squads.

“Not only are they pros, they are unbelievable people and the hardest workers,” Arkansas head coach Colby Hale said. “Whenever they are gone, you are going to feel the weight of what they did well after they are gone.”

Goins, who will be a member of the expansion franchise Racing Louisville FC, has made a lasting impact in her five-year career at Arkansas. She will leave the Razorbacks as the team’s all-time leader in career points.

Goins has two All-Southeastern Conference selections to her name and was a member of the SEC All-Freshman team in her first year. She was selected in the third round of the NWSL amateur draft in January, but she almost immediately accepted the extra year of college eligibility and set her sights on a national championship.

“It wasn’t a super hard decision (to come back),” Goins said. “During COVID, we only played a few games and that’s not how we wanted to finish our senior year. We all agreed that we were probably going to come back.”

Malham, who will join Goins on Racing Louisville FC after her rights were acquired after she went unselected in the three-round draft, has had a stellar career so far at Arkansas as a consistent difference-maker in the middle third. Malham has started nearly every game in her career and is always near the top of the stat sheet in minutes, but she had to take on a new role this season to serve the team.

Malham has embraced the change from a more offensive-oriented midfielder to a more defensive role and has even added an SEC Defensive Player of the Week honor to her 2019 All-SEC award.

“(Coming back) was a pretty easy decision,” Malham said.”Being able to play with Haley and Parker again was a big reason why. We have a lot of unfinished business.”

VanFossen will join the Chicago Red Stars next year after they acquired her rights when she went undrafted, but she has been the backbone of the Razorback defense her entire career. She has earned three first team All-SEC selections, won the 2019 SEC Co-Defender of the Year Award and become one of the first All-Americans in school history along with teammate Anna Podojil.

VanFossen has been one of the biggest reasons for Arkansas’ recent success. Her mix of power and speed on the defensive end tends to cancel out any mistakes resulting from a ferociously aggressive offensive style of play.

“I just wanted to come back and play another normal season with the team,” VanFossen said. “I’m back to finish the goals we set out to accomplish last year.”

The trio of Goins, Malham and VanFossen has spearheaded a total turnaround of the Arkansas soccer program. In 2017, the year they arrived on campus, the team finished eighth in the SEC. This year, the Razorbacks have won their third straight SEC regular season championship.

Arkansas fired off 14 straight wins this season after dropping the first two to top-five opponents, then lost to LSU in the team’s final regular season game. With the three future professionals back for one last ride and an influx of young talent to bolster the lineup, the Razorbacks are in position to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

“We are really hungry this year,” VanFossen said. “In the past couple years, we have not gotten the kind of respect we deserved, and this year we are definitely gaining that respect.”

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