By John Philip Wyllie
The road to Olympic Gold couldn’t be much tougher for Mexico’s women’s soccer team. They open on August 14 (8:00 a.m. P.S.T.) with powerful China, the runners-up in the 1999 World Cup and then play current World Cup Champion Germany on August 17 (8:00 a.m. PST). They are given virtually no chance of advancing out of their three-team group by most experts, but those same experts never expected the Tricolores to even qualify for the tournament. Despite the long odds, the players are staying focused and positive.
“Since 1999, this team has become much better,” said Mexico’s captain and leading scorer, Maribel Dominguez. “Since we didn’t qualify for the (2003) World Cup, it was more important than ever that we qualified for the Olympics.”
Support for women’s soccer in Mexico is Luke warm at best. The players are very aware that their continued existence as a team is based largely upon results. Head coach Leonardo Cuellar, has done a masterful job of building Mexico, once the world’s doormat, into a highly respected team. While it is unlikely that Mexico will defeat either of the two powerhouses that await them, Germany and China cannot afford to take Dominguez and her teammates lightly.
“The U.S. and Canada are no longer beating us as easily as they once did,” Do-minguez said. Canada , in fact, was the team that Mexico shocked to gain admittance to its first ever women’s Olympic soccer tournament.
Just as it did in 1999, Mexico will be relying on a number of American-born players with dual-citizenship. Defender, Monica Gonzalez, like Dominguez, starred in the now defunct WUSA last year. Several others played, or are currently playing for American colleges. The only player with a local connection this time around is Chula Vista’s Lina Valderrama.
A gifted midfielder, Valderrama starred at Bonita Vista High and for the Bonita Rebels several years ago. Possessing high developed ball skills and extraordinary quickness, Valderrama has been a mainstay for Cuellar at the right flank midfield position for several years.
Valderrama and Dominguez have similar feelings about representing Mexico in international competition while honing their skills here in the U.S.
“I love my country and I intend to continue playing for Mexico,” Dominguez said. “The biggest thing I have learned while playing here is to play at a higher level of intensity. I love the idea of taking that level of intensity back to Mexico so that our team can learn to practice just as hard.”
Mexican TV will be broadcasting both of Mexico’s men’s first round Olympic soccer games. Fans of La Seleccion Femenil, however, may have to be content to read about it in the newspaper since neither of Mexico’s women’s games are currently scheduled to be broadcast.