By John Philip Wyllie
With its opportunity to qualify for the 2003 Women’s World Cup looming just two months away, Mexico’s women’s national team is picking up the pace. Mexico has been training in San Diego recently preparing for its home and away series against an as of yet undetermined Asian opponent. South Korea, a team that Mexico defeated a few months ago, appears to be El Tricolores most likely challenger. The winner of that series (to be played May 10 in Mexico City and May 16 somewhere in Asia) will advance to the Women’s World Cup next fall in China.
While training in San Diego, Coach Leonardo Cuellar took advantage of the opportunity to provide his players with some high level competition. Mexico scrimmaged the U.S. U-21 team twice while the latter was in residence at Chula Vista’s Arco Olympic Training Center. Among those with the team hoping to represent Mexico in China are Bonita Vista High School stars, Lina Valderrama and Erica Rodriguez. La Prensa spoke with them following the first of their two scheduled scrimmages.
“They are a very strong team, but I think we did very well,” Valderrama said following last week’s 3-0 defeat to the U.S. U-21s. “(Unfortunately), we always make (critical) mistakes that cost us goals. That is what kills us most of the time.” Developing players tend to be prone to mistakes. With an eye toward the future, Cuellar bypassed many of his veteran players and selected a very young team for this camp. He was generally pleased with what he saw, especially in the case of Valderrama and Rodriguez.
“Both of them are coming along very well. Lina has been playing with us longer and I strongly believe that she is going to be one of our main players in the near future,” Cuellar predicted. “We need to make sure that she gets into a good college where she can get some more playing experience. The best women’s soccer in the world is played in the United States, so we need to make sure that she continues playing here.” Cuellar was equally pleased with the progress of Rodriguez.
“Erica is a nice new addition. We are excited about her and we are seeing a lot of good things in her,” Cuellar said. “Being younger, she will be eligible for our team that is headed to the Pan Am Games and she will make that team stronger. I have been using her on the right side (of the midfield), but I know she can also play as a forward. She will get a chance to play as a frontrunner in the near future. We have great expectations for her.”
Being more established, Valderrama has the best shot of landing a starting berth for the qualification playoff series and for the Women’s World Cup itself should Mexico qualify. She has played regularly as Mexico’s right flank midfielder in recent months and gained approximately 80 minutes of playing time last week against the U.S. U-21s. Rodriguez received about 40 minutes, but believes she has a good chance of making the final cut.
“We have a very young team. I think there are only four players here that went to the last Women’s World Cup,” Valderrama said. Two other participants in that history- making tournament were on the sidelines, but not in uniform. Chula Vista’s Linnea Quiñones, is currently recovering from a broken fibula. Andrea Rodebaugh who recently gave birth to her first child, was also on hand. If she can recover in time, goalkeeper Quiñones would like to return to defend the Mexican net. Rodebaugh, who is currently coaching for Mexico, is undecided about whether she would like to resume her career as a player.
Should Mexico qualify, Valderrama and Rodriguez will have the opportunity to experience their first Women’s World Cup. For two young ladies just a couple of years removed from high school, that prospect is incredibly exciting.
“It’s kind of crazy to be just out of high school doing all these things and traveling all over the world. It is flying by very quickly,” Rodriguez said.