Photo by Wilf Thorne
Tessa Gavilsky-Florio of the Houston Dash competes in a preseason scrimmage against Baylor University earlier this year. The former Granite City soccer standout was called up to play for the National Women’s Soccer League franchise in early July.
Life’s been good for Tessa Gavilsky-Florio since she moved back to the United States last year.
First, she got married. She tied the knot with Frank Florio in September 2015 and they have a home in Miami.
Now, Gavilsky-Florio is playing professional soccer with the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League. The former Granite City High soccer standout was called up to play for the Dash after seven of their players headed to Brazil to compete in the Summer Olympics.
“That’s such a cool thing,” Gavilsky-Florio said. “It’s something I’m proud of obviously to be from Granite (and play professionally). I’ll never forget where I came from. I love the support I get from everyone back home and it’s cool to represent my city and put Granite City on the map a little bit.”
Gavilsky-Florio played pro soccer overseas for five years. She played in Finland for one year and in Sweden for four. Last year, Gavilsky-Florio played for the Mallbackens IF, a professional soccer club in Sweden.
Gavilsky-Florio, who graduated from GCHS in 2007, said she quickly found out that playing soccer in the United States is much different than it is overseas.
“It’s a little bit different style of play and you got to kind of keep working until you earn a spot on the roster,” Gavilsky-Florio said. “There are so many girls who are very talented and have been on national teams. We have Carli Lloyd and Morgan Bryan on our team and that’s pretty cool, but they’re away for the Olympics. So it’s been cool to train in this environment and kind of see what this league is like for myself.”
Gavilsky-Florio continues a soccer career that started when she was 5. During her four-year career with the Granite City girls’ soccer team, Gavilsky-Florio finished with 57 goals and 64 assists and earned all-state honors twice. She also played with the Stetson University women’s soccer team for four years and finished as the team’s all-time leading scorer with 97 points.
Earlier this year, Gavilsky-Florio was invited to participate in the Dash’s preseason camp.
“She came in a couple of years ago when we started as an expansion team and that was the first time I saw her,” Houston head coach Randy Waldrum said. “Then she took off and went to play in Sweden for a few years after that. When she came back this preseason, we started to take a look at her. We saw that she made a lot of improvements playing over there and gaining that experience. Unfortunately, at that point, we didn’t have a roster spot open available. But we presented her the opportunity to stick around and see if that changes during the season.”
Gavilsky-Florio was called up to join the team in early July.
“She’s been fantastic,” Waldrum said. “I think she brings a little bit of versatility to us in midfield because she can play in all of the spots. She can be more of a defensive player or she can play in the attacking role in midfield. That versatility really helps with her play. Having a little bit of age and maturity helps her a little bit as well. The biggest key for her is adapting to the difference of the game in our league versus where she was playing in Sweden, which was a little bit slower-paced league. Our league tends to be a little more athletic.”
Gavilsky-Florio said she’s happy she’s playing professional soccer in the United States after playing overseas for five years.
“It’s awesome to be able to play here in the U.S. because it is different,” she said. “It will be much easier for my family to come see me here. We were in New Jersey a couple of weekends ago and that’s where my husband is from.”
The Dash joined the nine-team NWSL in 2014. They won five matches in their first season and six the following season. Houston plays its home games at BBVA Compass Stadium.
On July 16, Gavilsky-Florio was on the bench watching her team cruise to a 3-0 win over the Portland Thorns at home. It was the first time since May that the Dash scored any goals and it was only the team’s third win of the season.
“It was great,” Gavilsky-Florio said. “The energy from everybody was just awesome. We were at our home pitch. I was really excited about that. It was a good energy all around. We knew we needed to get the win.”
She got to play her first match as a member of the Dash on July 23, when they played the Chicago Red Stars at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., southwest of Chicago. She helped Houston finish with a 1-1 tie with Chicago.
Gavilsky-Florio entered in the 80th minute. Two minutes later, her teammate, Rachel Daly, scored a goal to tie the game at 1-1. Gavilsky-Florio played 14 minutes in the match.
It marked the first time since her senior year at GCHS that Gavilsky-Florio played a match at her home state. The last time she played in Illinois, Gavilsky-Florio helped the Warriors’ girls soccer team beat Lincoln-Way Central 2-0 in the IHSA state third-place match in Naperville in 2007.
Gavilsky-Florio said she’s setting her sights on trying to win a full-time spot with the Dash.
“My main goal is to get a solid contract with the team next year and be able to continue to play for at least a couple of more years,” she said.
Gavilsky-Florio said ever since she’s been playing for the Dash, she’s been getting plenty of support from all of her family members, including her husband, who is attending law school in Miami.
“Without that, it would be so hard,” Gavilsky-Florio said. “It’s so cool to see everyone over social media back home giving you love.”
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