U-17 WNT’s Kiara Pickett: Channeling Her Inner Dragon Warrior

Kiara “Kiki” Pickett may be short in stature but when it comes to heart, she’s as tall as the Jade Palace. She showed that in the USA’s World Cup opener against Paraguay on Oct. 1 in Al Zarqa, Jordan, as she scored her first international goal and also picked up an assist.

From the Santa Barbara Soccer Club to the Eagles Soccer Club to the U.S. 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Team, Kiara Picket has always been the smallest player on her soccer teams.

Listed at 5-foot-1, she’s one of the few people you’ll meet who will round that number down. That’s because she’s entirely comfortable with her size.

“Yeah, I’m probably closer to five,” she admitted, flashing an infectious smile and exuding her characteristic zest for life. “But great things come in small packages!”

The daughter of an African-American father who grew up in the South Bronx and a mother who was born in Guerrero, Mexico, she’s a combination of New York brashness and Latin flair.

What she lacks in inches she makes up for with large helpings of mental toughness, speed, strength and personality, and the right back, who tackles far above her weight class, is sure to be a fan favorite as the U.S. plays in this historic World Cup.

Kiara Pickett is listed at 5'1'' but her play on the field proves that height is nothing but a number

“When I’m on the field playing, I don’t feel like I’m small, I feel like I’m seven-foot-tall,” said Pickett. “Until I see the pictures from the game, then I’m, ‘oh yeah, I forgot. I’m sort of small.’ But my motto is ‘remember me,’ so I am going to do everything I can do to try to be remembered, and if you’re one of the smallest players on the team, you have to be aggressive to be noticed.”

That was first honed in the public parks of idyllic Santa Barbara, California, where she grew up, playing just for the love of the game and kicking the ball around with her cousins.

“Over the years, I learned how to use my body, my low center of gravity and my speed to get into the best positions,” said Pickett.

If there’s a ball to be won during a match, Pickett thinks she’s going to be the one to win it.

Her philosophy on 50/50 balls: “That’s my ball.”

What if it’s 40/60? “Still my ball.”

Even 30/70? “Well, I’m going to make it hard for you to get the ball.”

“I take pride in my heading even though I’m small,” she said. “I feel like players don’t expect me to win headers so if I can, that’s more intimidating for an opponent. Even if I can’t get to the ball, I’ll try to use my body and make sure they don’t get it.”

She has also shown that she can use her qualities to get forward and contribute to the attack, as she did in the USA’s World Cup opener on Oct. 1 against Paraguay. She set up the USA’s second goal in the 6-1 win with a beautiful run down the right flank before nutmegging a closing defender with her first touch. She then sent a perfect cross to Civana Kuhlmann. Pickett scored the USA’s fifth goal after getting into the penalty area and running on a cross from Ashley Sanchez, sparking a wild celebration amongst her and her teammates.

Pickett celebrates her first international goal at the U-17 WWC with her teammates || FIFA/Getty Images

Pickett spent a good chunk of 2015 with the Under-20 Women’s National Team, attending four camps and earning a roster spot for the CONCACAF Under-20 Women’s Championship in Honduras. Unfortunately, she got hurt in the first match and had to watch from the bench as the USA earned a berth to the 2016 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup and won the regional title, but it turned out to be a learning experience nonetheless.

“Of course I wanted to play, but I think it was a blessing in disguise,” said Pickett. “I got to experience the tournament as a fan and take a step back to soak it all in. I looked at it as an overall experience to learn.”

Known as Kiki to all her teammates (“Kiara is for school, Kiki is for soccer and Ki is for my family,” she says), Pickett used that experience when she returned to the U-17 WNT to earn her roster spot for the World Cup. She has become one of the team leaders.

“We’ve learned that you don’t need to wear the armband to be a leader,” said Pickett. “We have a lot of leaders on this team, and each person has their own specific role and way in which they lead. I think I’m more of the Momma Bear. I make sure everyone is doing everything correctly and responsibly to hold each person accountable. It’s a hard thing to do, because we’re not as experienced as older players and we may not even know what the right things to do are. We look to our really great staff for guidance, but sometimes we have to figure out the solutions on our own.”

And figuring out a way to get things done is what Pickett is all about. Her competitive nature would tolerate nothing less.

“Everything I do is competitive,” she said. “Even at school. You got a better grade than me? I’m going to get a better grade than you. You’re at the front of line? I want to be at the front of the line. Dance party during lunch? I’m going to go all out.”

As excelling seems to be in her DNA, it’s no surprise that the Dos Pueblos High School senior will attend Stanford next fall. To hear her tell it, she’s also got some panda bear in her DNA.

Pickett is a big fan of the Kung Fu Panda movies. All three of them. She figures she watches the three animated films at least 10 times a year combined.

She identifies with Po, the panda protagonist who initially did not have confidence in himself but came to learn that the ability to be the Dragon Warrior was always inside of him and that he was capable of being the Protector of the Valley.

“Everything comes from within,” said Pickett. “Po just needed someone to believe in him.” Ever since she started playing soccer, she’s given reason for her coaches to believe in her, and now she’s the Protector of the USA’s Right Side. 

Up in the Jade Palace, Master Shifu would be proud.