By John Philip Wyllie
Mexico’s women’s national soccer team stopped in Chula Vista last weekend for one last tune-up before heading off to Portugal this week to participate in its first ever Algarve Cup. An estimated crowd of about 1,500 mostly pro-Mexico soccer fans were on hand at Southwestern College’s Devore Stadium to give La Selección Femenil a proper send-off and to watch them battle the San Diego WFC Sea Lions.
With Mexican scoring sensation Maribel Dominguez in Spain with her club team and five of its starters on the bench resting a variety of ailments, the game provided Mexican head coach Leonardo Cuellar an opportunity to look at some of his up and coming stars of the future. One of his most recent additions is former Bonita Vista High and San Diego State goalkeeper, Sophia Perez.
With the ball almost entirely in the Sea Lions end Perez had a quiet first half in goal. In the second half however, she was called upon to make several saves that preserved Mexico’s 1-0 victory. On a night when Dominguez’s scoring touch was clearly missed, Leticia Villalpando’s first half goal turned out to be the game winner.
“Diosolina (Valderrama) and Jessica (Romero) have been representing Baja California for the last five years on this team and they have been good additions,” Cuellar said. “Now with Sophia Perez a part of our program and coming along it will give us the opportunity to have three solid goalkeepers.”
“I just signed with Mexico two months ago, but I’ve already traveled with the team. We trained in Acapulco and we are going to Portugal this week. There are four other keepers on the team and some of them have been here for a long time,” Perez said. If she gets the playing time she is hoping for in Portugal, Perez will be realizing one of her dreams.
“I’ve been looking forward to playing on this team and traveling with them for a long time. A lot of the world’s powerhouse teams are going to be in Portugal and we are looking forward to competing against them. I’ve been a fan of women’s soccer for a long time so getting out there and playing against some of those women is going to pretty insane,” she said enthusiastically.
If Perez can stick with the team, she will be the third former Bonita Vista High Baron on the current roster. Valderrama and Romero both played for the South Bay high school in the late 90s. Perez is following a trail blazed by another former Baron, Linnea Quinones who starred for Mexico in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Quinones parlayed her high school career into a scholarship at San Diego State and served as a mentor to Perez.
“Linnea has been great,” said Perez. “She is an awesome person and I have learned a lot from her. Growing up, I felt like she was my big sister. She made a big impact on me. She did a great job at Bonita and a great job at SDSU.”
In Portugal, Perez won’t find the 80,000 spectator crowds that Quinones played before in the ’99 Women’s World Cup, but she will find competition that is every bit as intense. Germany, Norway and the United States, the only three countries that can boast Women’s World Cup titles, will participate in the March 9 -15 tournament. So will China and Sweden, runners-up in ’99 and ’03. Blessed with a favorable draw, Mexico has a good chance to advance out of group play where it will face Portugal, Northern Ireland and England.
With the success of last weekend’s exhibition at Southwestern College, event organizer, Enrique Morones, would like to turn it into an annual event.
“We had almost 1,500 people here, so that is a great turnout. Part of the proceeds will go to our scholarship fund. We are hoping to have Mexico come back and play the Sea Lions every year.”