Soccer

Former Montana Grizzly Rita Lang to play professional soccer in Portugal

Former Montana midfielder Rita Lang, who was born in Portugal, has signed a contract with Estoril Praia and will play professionally this coming season in the country of her birth.

Estoril Praia competes in Liga BPI, the top women’s league in Portugal. Lang’s contract is for the 2021-22 season, with practices beginning in early August, games in early September.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to become a professional soccer player since I started playing as a little kid,” said Lang. “I grew up watching the Portuguese men’s national team, Real Madrid, Manchester United and the U.S. Women’s National Team in admiration, knowing that I wanted to play at that level someday.”

She becomes the third Grizzly to play under coach Chris Citowicki to sign a professional contract.

Janessa Fowler, in 2020, signed with Eastern Suburbs FC of Australia’s National Premier League. Last month Alexa Coyle signed with Hibernian of the Scottish Women’s Premier League.

Lang is the latest, but she was the first to make it known to Citowicki, who was hired in May 2018, that playing professionally in Portugal wasn’t just a dream. It was something that was going to happen.

She was the one who triggered it all for me,” he said. “Coming here, I had the idea of wanting to have players who want to play professionally. “She already had it set in her mind that she was going to go back to Portugal and play. She’s been talking about it for years. It’s been a lifelong goal to play there specifically.”

It’s given Citowicki the conviction to bring up the idea of playing professionally not only to his current players but to those he’s recruiting as well.

“We decided, let’s start saying it out loud and see who else wants to do it. Rita’s desire to do it really opened up the floodgates. A lot of our recruits, when they commit, are saying they want to do it,” he said. “One of our goals now, in addition to winning championships, is to send players on to play professionally when they’re done if that’s what they want to do.”

Like her mom, Lang was born in Lisbon, in 1998. Two years later, the family moved to the U.S. She may have lived in the States, but a part of her remained in Portugal, where her mom’s family still resides.

“Portuguese football was such a big part of my life growing up and assisted in molding me into the player that I am today,” she says. “I learned so much from watching them and applying it to my game.”

Holding dual citizenship, Lang was invited to a U-16 training camp in 2014, which led to some games with the Portuguese age-group national team.

She returned to Portugal for another training camp in 2015. In the fall of 2016, during her senior year at Sherwood (Ore.) High, she played a handful of games for Portugal’s U-19 national team.

It’s why, if you see Lang today and ask her to roll up the right sleeve of her shirt, tattooed prominently and proudly on her upper arm is the crest of the Portuguese Football Federation.

“The symbol to me not only represents being proud of my country but also highlights my goal of one day playing with the Portuguese Women’s Senior Team,” Lang said.

The opportunity with Estoril Praia, she hopes, isn’t an end point but just another step in her journey.

“I want to expand my knowledge and add new skills to my game,” she said. “I’m excited to be in another environment with very talented soccer players so I can work on becoming the best player I can be.”

Lang played in 14 matches for Montana as a true freshman in 2017, memorably scoring and then two minutes later assisting on Raye Burton’s game-winner in the Grizzlies’ 2-1 road win at Northern Iowa.

She was forced to sit out Montana’s NCAA tournament season of 2018 with an injury, then came back to earn honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference honors as a junior and senior.

She scored four goals in 2019, two in the spring season of 2021, both game-winners.

Her goal at 99:43 gave Montana a 1-0 overtime win at Idaho and a key early-season series sweep. She later scored the game-winner in the Grizzlies’ 3-1 home win over Eastern Washington on Senior Day.

In Lang’s final two seasons as a Grizzly, Montana went 16-8-6, 14-2-3 against league opponents, and won three Big Sky titles, two regular season, one tournament.

“I cherish the time I spent at Montana,” Lang said. “I’m thankful I was surrounded by so many incredibly hard-working teammates who helped push me to my limits every day at practice and in the weight room. Without them, I wouldn’t be in this position.

“I’m also grateful that I had a coaching staff that never doubted my goals and encouraged and worked with me every step of the way. From extra training and film sessions to talking tactics and new ideas, it all led me to this opportunity that’s my new reality.”

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