May 14, 2004

Valderrama Returns to Battle for an Olympic Berth

By John Philip Wyllie

The Olympic-bound women’s national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico squared off in a friendly in Albuquerque last Sunday. It was the thirteenth meeting of the two familiar foes and the thirteenth consecutive victory for the powerful Americans, but it was a lucky outing for a Mexican midfielder Lina Valderrama. Valderrama, a Chula Vista resident with dual citizenship, has had her share of bad luck recently.

After establishing herself as the starting right flank midfielder on Leonardo Cuellar’s ever-improving Mexican team, Valderrama blew out her knee last summer. As a result, she could only watch from the sidelines last spring as her teammates fought against long odds to qualify for the Summer Olympics. Worst of all, she missed Mexico’s greatest on- the-field accomplishment, a stunning 2-1 victory over Canada in March’s CONCACAF tournament. That victory provided Mexico with its ticket to Greece in what will be its first ever Olympic appearance.

“I blew out my knee last summer and I had ACL surgery in July,” Valderrama said upon returning from Albuquerque. “I rehabbed in Mexico and started playing again in January. Sunday though, was my first international game back following my injury. I was glad that I got to play a full 90 minutes. It makes me feel more confident with the team and within myself.”

Chula Vista’s Lina Valderrama (#7) poses with an unidentified teammate at Arco Center. Photo by JP Wyllie.

While Sunday’s game was a significant step on the recovery trail for Valderrama, she can’t afford to rest on her laurels. The 18-player Olympic roster has yet to be decided and naturally, the competition is fierce.

“Mexico has come up with a lot of new players (while she was rehabbing) so, I hope I can win my position back. I’ll have to work hard. My hope is to go to the Olympics and I pray that I will be on that team,” Valderrama said.

Mexico played a strong first half against the second ranked Americans holding them scoreless through the first seven minutes of the second half. But as the half wore on, the U.S. took charge and goals by Cindy Parlow, Mia Hamm and Lori Chalupny went unanswered. Still, a 3-0 defeat is a far cry from the double-digit drubbings Mexico regularly absorbed when the team was first developing. Valder-rama left the field with a f positive feeling.

“(Cuellar) told me that I played well, especially since it was my first game back after the injury. He said I played with a lot of confidence,” Valderrama said. Holding her own against U.S. team captain Julie Foudy in the first half, Valderrama struggled along with her teammates throughout most of the second half.

“I went at it as hard as I could, but I need to work on my touch,” she said. Val-derrama should have plenty of time for that as Mexico reconvenes in the nation’s capitol on May 25 to begin full-scale preparations. Upcoming friendlies against Russia, Australia and Italy are in the works before Olympic competition begins this summer in Greece.

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