By John Philip Wyllie
The good news is that Mexico’s women’s soccer team is in position to gain the 16th and final berth in the Women’s World Cup, which will be played September 20 October 12 across the United States. The bad news is that in order to qualify Mexico will have to defeat Japan in a two-game home and away series.
Japan has qualified for each of the three previous Women’s World Cup tournaments. Mexico, on the other hand, made its first and only appearance in 1999 and finished last after falling to Brazil, Italy and Germany. On January 12, Japan battled the top-ranked U.S. national team to a 0-0 draw. Needless to say, Mexico will not be favored.
Mexico was expecting to play South Korea for the right to participate in the tournament, but the Koreans pulled off a major upset by finishing ahead of Japan in the just completed Asian qualifiers. Now Mexico and Japan will square off first in Mexico City on July 5 and then in Japan on July 12. The winner advances to the Women’s World Cup. If they split the two games, the winner will be decided on goal differential. Mexico and Japan have only met once before. Japan prevailed 3-0 in that 1986 meeting, but that was long before either team was well established.
Ironically, the Mexico-Japan series will pit a pair of Atlanta Beat teammates against each other. Forward Maribel Dominguez, with seven goals and four assists is currently near the top of the WUSA scoring stat sheet locked a four-way tie for second place behind Maren Meinert and Marinette Pichon. She will play for Mexico. Her Atlanta Beat teammate, midfielder Homare Sawa, (3 goals, 2 assists) will represent her native Japan. Mexico is likely to feature at least two other players with WUSA experience, Monica Gonzalez, a Boston Breakers all-star defender and Monica Gerardo who until recently, played for the Washington Freedom.
Closer to home, a pair of former Bonita Vista High students, Erica Rodriquez and Lina Valderrama will likely see action for Leonardo Cuellar’s Mexican side. Linnea Quinones, who also attended BVHS, and starred in goal in the ’99 WWC, is more uncertain about her status. A broken fibula put her on the sidelines after a year with the WUSA’s San Jose CyberRays. Though still not 100%, Quinones would like to return to the goal. The versatile Rodriquez can play almost anywhere, but has seen most of her action on defense. Valderrama has been Mexico’s starting right flank midfielder since last year.
“We have a very young team,” Valderrama said earlier this spring while training at the Arco Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. “I think there are only four players here that went to the last Women’s World Cup.” Playing against a more experienced team like Japan, Cuellar’s attempt to inject youth into his lineup could backfire.