By John Philip Wyllie
Considering the history of the battles waged on the soccer field between the United States and Mexico in women’s soccer, fans of the Tricolores must have been expecting the worst when the two teams collided at the Rose Bowl on October 27. That a depleted Mexico could hold the powerful U.S. to just three goals in a 3-0 losing effort bodes well for the team’s World Cup prospects.
Mexico and the United States are two of the eight teams engaged in Football Confederation World Cup qualifying. The winner and the runner-up of the eight-team North and Central American tournament will gain immediate berths to the 2003 Women’s World Cup that will be held in China. The third place wildcard finisher will get one last chance, but it must defeat an as of yet undecided opponent from Asia.
In 1999, Mexico became the first Spanish-speaking country to participate in the prestigious event. Its best chance of returning is again as the third-place wildcard winner. With the U.S. and Canada considered locks to advance, the wildcard route appears the most probable path possible for the rapidly improving Mexican team.
Mexico followed up on its strong performance Sunday night with a 3-0 thrashing of Panama on October 29 and a 2-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago on Nov. 2. Boston Breakers midfielder Monica Gonzalez led the way in Game 2 with two goals while the Washington Freedom’s Monica Gerardo connected for two in Game three.
Mexico’s strong showing is a bit of a surprise considering they are without their regular three-player contingent from the San Jose CyberRays: goalkeeper Linnea Quinones and defenders Gina Oceguera-Eagleson and Lisa Nanez. Nanez and Quinones are nursing injuries while Oceguera-Eagleson has apparently retired to pursue a career in teaching. For the last several years, they have been the backbone of the Mexican defense.
Two locals on the field for Mexico were the aforementioned Gerardo from Corona, California and former Bonita High School midfielder, Lina Valderrama. A rising star for Mexico at 18, Valderrama played the entire game against the U.S. at right flank midfield.
“Lina is one of the younger players on our team,” said coach, Leonardo Cuellar, a former World Cup star for the Tricolores. “ I think she has a bright future and we expect a lot of good things from her in the next few games.” Having had a taste of international competition, Valderrama hopes to stay in Mexico’s starting lineup.
“There is a lot more running (on this level) and it is much more competitive and physical,” said Valderrama who last year at this time was preparing for her senior season at Bonita Vista High. “I had a lot of confidence in myself tonight,” she said. “If I can continue playing with a lot of confidence and desire, I think I will be able to keep my starting position.”
“We might have been missing some of our key players tonight, but we are very confident with the players we do have,” Gerardo said. Having reached the tournament’s semifinals, Mexico needs a victory over Costa Rica when it plays on November 9 at the Rose Bowl to qualify as the wild card winner.