July 7, 2000
By John Philip Wyllie
With the world's three best women's soccer teams; the United States, Brazil and China all participating in the 2000 Gold Cup, Mexico knew going into the tournament that its chances of bringing home a trophy were somewhere between slim and none.
While in one sense Mexico departed empty handed from last week's east coast tournament, it gained something more important: optimism and confidence. Mexican Women's National Team goalkeeper, Linnea Quinones believes that the substantial progress Mexico has made in the last year is due largely to the efforts of one man: her coach, Mexican soccer icon, Leonardo Cuellar.
"Leo is well respected and he has improved our game so much physically and mentally," says Quinones. Cuellar's efforts are starting to produce results on the field. After losing a hard fought match to Women's World Cup qualifier Canada 4-3 in their June 24 Gold Cup opener, Mexico rebounded by pummeling Guatemala 7-0 two nights later. Their third and final Gold Cup match pitted them against mighty China, the same team that battled the United States for 120 scoreless minutes before succumbing on penalty kicks in last year's Women's World Cup Final.
On paper, the match had the makings of a rout, but after 85 minutes the two teams were separated by just a single goal. While China ultimately prevailed 3-0, the game provided a huge moral victory for Mexico.
"We've seen a lot of improvement in our midfield and with our forwards," says Quinones. "The team has grown up and matured a lot and I think we are finally coming together and jelling." Quinones has had the experience of being constantly bombarded in her goal many times in the past, but this tournament was different. "We were able to play the ball through the midfield and out to our flanks," Quinones said. As a result, she was able to observe more of the game from the goal. She liked what she saw.
Apparently, she wasn't the only one. Several media sources in Mexico provided the team with what she called, "our best coverage so far." Also positive is the way the Mexican Soccer Federation has been supporting the team. "Now that they have seen that we are improving, I hope they will continue giving us the support we need."