By John Philip Wyllie
On Sunday, South Bay resident Erica Rodriguez watched the U.S. battle Japan in women’s soccer from the stands of USD’s Torero Stadium. Later on this year she could be playing against them in China as a member of Mexico’s Women’s World Cup team.
Rodriguez, who starred for Cal Poly Pomona this fall after playing for the La Jolla Nomads, San Dieguito Surf and Bonita Vista Barons locally, is the newest member of Leonardo Cuellar’s women’s national team. At this moment, she is with the team in Australia preparing for a four-nation tournament that will pit Mexico against Sweden, South Korea, and Australia.
“I tried out for the team right before Christmas and heard from them about three weeks ago, so my first time (representing Mexico) will be in Australia for this tournament.” Rodriguez said. She will be joining another local star and former Baron teammate Lina Valderrama for the tournament when it begins on January 26. Valderrama was instrumental in bringing her on to the team.
“Everything happened so quickly,” Rodriguez explained. “I hadn’t even thought about trying out for them (until recently). A couple of weeks before, I had seen Mexico play against the U.S. (in the Gold Cup). I was there watching Lina play and my coach, Louise Liebermann from Cal Poly told me that she thought I was good enough (to be on the team). I asked Lina (to arrange a tryout) and now I’m there.”
As the third place finisher in last fall’s Gold Cup, Mexico earned the opportunity to be what amounts to a wildcard team in the 2003 Women’s World Cup. But first, they must defeat an as of yet undetermined Asian team in a home and away series scheduled for May. Last time around, Mexico became the first Spanish-speaking nation to ever qualify for a Women’s World Cup by edging Argentina. This time, needing a win against possible opponents such as Japan, South Korea or North Korea, it may not be so easy. That is why Cuellar has continued his search to find new and skillful players and that is where Rodriguez, a forward, comes in.
With Mexico slated to play South Korea on February 1, Rodriguez and her teammates might gain a pretty good idea of their chances.
“I’m getting really, really excited,” Rodriguez said. (Playing in a World Cup) is a great once in a lifetime opportunity. If I do well and we do well, it could happen.”