By John Philip Wyllie
When Mexico takes on the United States in women’s soccer on September 13 in Rochester, New York, San Diego fans may recognize a familiar face in the Mexican goal. Former San Diego State Aztec, Sophia Perez is likely to fill that role for Leonardo Cuellar’s rapidly improving side. When these two teams met in October of last year, the U.S. prevailed by a 3-0 margin. Not too many years ago, lopsided 13-0, affairs were more the norm, so Mexico is clearly closing the gap. Their goal in Rochester will be to close it even further.
Mexico has been training in the mountains outside of Mexico City since August 14 and if nothing else, its players should be extremely fit by game time. Much of the credit goes to their trainer, Vicente Espadas.
“One of the biggest personnel changes would have to be (the addition of ) our personal trainer, Vicente Espadas,” Perez said. Espadas worked with the team prior to their 2004 Olympic appearance. “This past month he has been pushing our muscles to their limits. We are constantly running in the mountains at extreme altitudes and each day he brings us higher and higher into the mountains.”
Mexico will tune-up for the U.S. with a match against a Brooklyn-based Spanish All-Star team on September 9 in New York, play the U.S. in Rochester and then hopefully take on Chinese Tapei somewhere in the L.A. area shortly afterward. The details of that proposed third match are still being hammered out.
Perez was on hand on July 23 when the U.S. dominated Ireland 5-0 here in San Diego at USD. It gave her an opportunity to scout the American’s recently revamped lineup.
“The U.S. lineup is always going to impress me,” Perez said. “They are continually finding new ways to put the ball in the back of the net. (Natasha) Kai is a scoring machine and we will be playing close attention to her when she enters the game. And Abby (Wambach) is one of my personal favorites. She is so strong and her presence is felt whenever she steps on to the field.”
This summer, Perez sharpened her skills locally while playing for the San Diego Gauchos. She found it to be a very positive experience.
“This Gauchos season was a vast improvement over last year’s. I had a blast with my teammates and we were all in it together. It definitely helped me prepare for (playing internationally with) Mexico. Being a leader (on the Gauchos) brought me here where I am humbled everyday. Soccer is a game of respect,” Perez added.
Perez remains grateful for the opportunity she has been given to represent Mexico in international competition. Over the years she has been giving back to the local community by coaching youth players following dreams of their own. This summer she helped to train young goalkeepers at the Julie Foudy Soccer Camps held in various cities. She also served as an assistant soccer coach at Steele Canyon High School last season and hopes to return in 2007.
The U.S. Mexico match will be broadcast live September 13 at 5:00 p.m. on ESPN2.