By John Philip Wyllie
When Mexico squares off against the United States in Women’s soccer Wednesday night (live on ESPN 8:00 p.m.) fans at Carson’s Home Depot Center will be seeing a lot more than just an international friendly. They will be witnessing the end of the era. Wednesday’s game between the two regional foes will mark the last time that pioneering stars Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and July Foudy will don the U.S. colors. Long-time defender, Joy Fawcett, who also starred in the inaugural 1991 Women’s World Cup, will join them in retirement following the game. Due to an injury however, her role Wednesday night will be limited to sideline cheerleading.
Chula Vista’s Lina Valderrama, a fixture at right flank midfield in recent years for El Tricolores, is expected to start for Leonardo Cuellar’s vastly improved side. Valderrama has been training with the team in Mexico City for the last few weeks as they prepare for Wednesday night’s game.
Otay Ranch High School soccer coach, Ron Pietila has many fond memories of Valderrama, a player he coached during his long tenure at Bonita Vista High.
“She played for me on our varsity team as a freshman. Our first game that year was against a powerful Poway team that was loaded with seniors. The first time Lina went to receive a ball, a girl from Poway banged into her real hard and broke her nose. That was her introduction to high school soccer,” Pietila recalled. Fortunately for Valderrama, things improved dramatically over the next three years.
“Like her two sisters Lina is slightly built, but very good at shielding and receiving the ball,” Pietila said. “All three of them were very tough kids. Lina was the most physically imposing of the three and the most physical. She was also very good at scoring tough goals against the better teams. She was technically very strong and always struck the ball very well when she was shooting on goal.” Cuellar no doubt has seen many of those same qualities in Valderrama.
Mexico has faced the United States four times already this year losing 2-0, 3-2, 3-0, and 1-0. They have never defeated their northern neighbor, but they have shown a dramatic improvement over the last several years. It wasn’t long ago that Mexico was absorbing double-digit losses at the hands of the Americans. Those days however, are long gone. Mexico, an up and coming challenger, participated in its first women’s Olympic competition earlier this year.
The United States, Gold Medal champions of the 2004 Summer Olympics, has already broken its previous record (25) for number of wins in a calendar year. Currently 27-2-4 on the year, they would like to give their retiring players one last victory. The match marks the final stop on Team Amer-ica’s 10-game Fan Celebration Tour. Following the game, both teams will then take some time off before preparing for the March Algarve Cup.