By: John Philip Wyllie
It has been a tough year for the handful of Mexican-American women competing for the few coveted roster spots in the WUSA. San Jose’s Gina Oceguera-Eagleson retired from the game in the off-season to pursue a career in teaching. Her former San Jose CyberRays teammate, Linnea Quinones of Chula Vista, is currently out of action while she recovers from a broken fibula. Another teammate, Lisa Nanez, is battling to make the C-Rays roster as a free agent and only one of the 32 players selected in the 2003 player draft has even a hint of Hispanic heritage. That trend should change next year when Santa Clara and U-21 national team star Veronica Zepeda becomes eligible for the 2004 draft.
At 5’2,” the crafty and elusive forward is living proof that good things come in small packages. Unfortunately, Zepeda has been prone to injury constantly playing against bigger and stronger athletes.
“During the last three years, I have had a lot of injuries, but I am working on that. My legs are getting stronger than they have ever been. I am working with the trainers back at Santa Clara as well as the ones here with the U.S. national team,” Zepeda said last Thursday following a scrimmage against the Mexican national team at the Arco Olympic Training Center.
Without a doubt, Mexico’s head coach Leonardo Cuellar would have loved to have had Zepeda playing for his team, but that won’t ever happen.
“When I first heard about Mexico’s women’s national team I had already played for the U.S. national team,” Zepeda said. International rules prohibit athletes, except under special circumstances, from representing more than one country. So, by playing for the U.S., Zepeda became ineligible to play for Mexico. It doesn’t really bother her however. She has her eyes on a bigger goal.
Zepeda would love to one day become the first Mexican-American woman to become a starter on the senior U.S. national team. “That would be awesome!” she said. Having risen through the ranks of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s youth program to the U-21 team, she is now just one step away. She has in fact, already played for the full national team on five occasions. Becoming a starter however, will take considerably more hard work and some better luck in the injury department.
In scrimmaging the San Diego Spirit last week, Zepeda caught a glimpse of what her future may hold.
“Next year will be my senior year (at Santa Clara). I hope that after that I can play in the WUSA. The Spirit has a lot of great players like Joy Fawcett, Shannon MacMillan and Aly Wagner. I think they will be a great team this year,” Zepeda said. She particularly enjoyed playing against Wagner, her friend and former Santa Clara teammate who was the league’s number one draft pick.
“It always fun to play against a former teammate,” Zepeda said. “Aly is always competitive. She’s a great player and she’ll be missed at Santa Clara.”
While Zepeda credits her parents for supporting her on and off the field, she regrets that they didn’t teach her more Spanish while growing up.
“My parents are Spanish speaking, but I’m kind of mad at them for not teaching me a little more. I did take five years of it at school, but I don’t think that I speak it very well.” As a player with the potential of one-day being a role model to the millions of Mexican-American girls that embrace the sport, she may want to keep studying.