December 10, 2004

Former South Bay Soccer Rivals Unite for Mexico

By John Philip Wyllie

One time rivals Lina Valderrama (Bonita Vista High) and Jessica Romero (Castle Park High) found themselves on the same side of the ball Wednesday night for a historic game in Carson California. Valderrama and Romero were in Mexico’s starting lineup at the Home Depot Center for a 5-0 defeat suffered against the United States Olympic Gold Medal Team.

The match marked the final leg of a 10-match Fan Celebration Tour for the Americans. More importantly, it marked the end of an era with the post-game retirements of Hamm, the world’s all-time leading scorer, Foudy the team’s long-time captain and spokesperson, and Fawcett, considered by most to be the best women’s defender to ever play the game.

In a phone interview just prior to kickoff, Valderrama and Romero credited the retiring trio as pioneers and role models and they felt honored to provide the opposition in the historic match.

Hamm had some nice things to say about Mexico telling an ESPN Classic audience that “Mexico is an amazing team that seems to get better every time we play them.”

While Valderrama has been the team’s starting right flank midfielder for the last several years, Romero is a relative newcomer. Romero, playing right back, gained just her second career start on Wednesday night.

“I’ve been watching them play (on TV) for years, so it is great to have an opportunity to play against them,” Romero said. “Our goal is always to play our best game. We are not really focused on who we are playing against. We are nervous enough as it is.”

Both players shook off whatever nervousness they might have been feeling and showed composure on the ball. Like the preceding 14 meetings between the two teams, the U.S. emerged as the winner, but Mexico is closing the gap on its northern neighbor.

Mexico’s head coach, Leonardo Cuellar, opted to use the game as a learning experience for his younger players fielding a team devoid of its two biggest offensive weapons, Maribel Dominguez and Iris Mora. The United States on the other hand, brought all of its big guns to bear.

“The have been playing together for so long that I think they could pass the ball (effectively) in the dark,” Valderrama said of the Americans. Considering that several of his players were making their international debuts, Cuellar, no doubt saw something to build on.

Both teams will take the rest of the month off and then return to camp early next year as they prepare for Portugal’s prestigious Algarve Cup. The March event will include a Mexican team for the first time.

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