After enduring a grueling eight hours of jury duty earlier this summer, Churchville’s Marisa Pilla was (understandably) not in the best of spirits. Upon returning to the comfort of her home, the ‘09 Council Rock South graduate would simply get some rest and put the draining experience behind her.
Well, that’s what she thought.
When Pilla’s cell phone rang, she never dreamed the call would change the trajectory of her day – and life – for the better. But that’s exactly what happened when Pilla was asked to join ESPN’s broadcast team as the first female sideline reporter for the National Women’s Soccer League.
“I’m so excited to be a part of this package because I feel like it’s been long overdue to have this type of coverage for the women’s league, and I feel honored just to be playing a small role in making this league seen by as many people as possible,” Pilla said.
The National Women’s Soccer League is the highest level of professional women’s soccer in the United States, and features players from around the world. The nine-team Division-1 league includes Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, Utah Royals FC and Washington Spirit.
For Pilla, who grew up playing soccer under the tutelage of her father, it’s an honor to shed light not only on her favorite sport, but the women on the field.
“A big responsibility is telling these players’ stories and showing everybody who they are, and that you have really great players playing here in this country besides in the World Cup,” Pilla said. “Even the women who didn’t represent their nation in the World Cup, they’re pretty fantastic players in this league altogether. I’m excited to be part of that story and to play a small role in making it as big as we can.”
Though Pilla’s father, who played soccer semi-professionally in Philadelphia and Delaware, passed away 14 years ago, she’s determined to make him proud through her career – a perfect blend of journalism and athletics.
During her time at Council Rock, Pilla, who always boasted a knack for writing, decided to take a broadcast class. Her talent was quickly noticed by her teacher, who suggested she pursue it in college.
“I really took it to heart and I applied to schools that I thought had great journalism programs,” Pilla said.
After graduating from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, Pilla became a fixture in the Philadelphia sports scene. Over the years, she has hosted coverage of the NWSL College Draft, followed the MLS as a reporter and studio host for the Philadelphia Union, and covered the NBA, NFL and NCAA football and basketball for regional sports networks.
“It all came full circle when I was able to cover soccer. It was something that had always been so close to my heart because of my dad, and it’s something I feel I can still share with him even though he’s not here anymore,” Pilla said. “He always instilled that passion for the game in me. That’s what I find so beautiful about soccer – when people really love the sport, it’s a part of them.”
To date, Pilla has traveled to Portland, Chicago and Houston in her new reporting role, obtaining exclusive, behind-the-scenes information for fellow soccer fans.
“The best part is getting access where no one can get access. That’s why I’m there, why I’m on the field. When I make a report, it’s something that nobody else should be able to know. To me, that’s what’s exciting, being in the thick of it. I can hear the coaches screaming, I can hear the players. It takes me back to my athletic days,” Pilla said. “And then, sometimes the game lends itself to talk about things that aren’t necessarily going on on the field, but to bring up some great points about these players and their journeys. My job is to tell a story. And it’s not my story, it’s their story. It’s pushing who these players are both on and off the field.”
According to Pilla, constructing a NWSL broadcast team, which also includes Aly Wagner, Jenn Hildreth, Angela Hucles, Glenn Davis and Dalen Cuff, was a “great endeavor” by ESPN. Not only does Pilla think it will continue to drive momentum from the World Cup, it’ll showcase the oldest professional women’s league in the country.
“The NWSL has been around the longest at the point. I think it’s really awesome that now, women have an option after college to pursue this as a career. More and more, it’s getting better and better competition,” Pilla said. “I hope people just fall in love with the league and realize that there’s some really great soccer being played.” ••
Catch Pilla on ESPNews and ESPN 2 weekly through October. For more information on the National Women’s Soccer League, visit nwslsoccer.com
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org