Introducing the American soccer player who jeopardized the U.S. Women's World Cup hopes
Veronica Perez was on a bus on Interstate 5 this afternoon, making a three-hour trip to Portland with the University of Washington women's soccer team for the NCAA tournament. She is a volunteer assistant coach who completed her college career last year, an anonymous job that someday might land her a head coaching position.
Perez, however, is hardly anonymous. Since last Friday, the American forward has been a Mexican soccer hero.
By scoring the go-ahead goal in a 2-1 victory over the United States in Women's World Cup qualifying, she contributed to probably the greatest upset in women's soccer history and one of the most significant in international women's sports.
"It was a little weird at first," she said of playing against her homeland. "Some of my friends asked me, 'How can you play for Mexico? You live in the United States!' But part of me is Mexican."
Perez, 22, was born and raised in Northern California. Her mother Irene is originally from Ciudad Juarez, just across the border separating Texas and Mexico. Her father Bernardo was born in the States to Mexican immigrants. Veronica understands Spanish but doesn't speak it well. She played youth soccer for PSV Union FC and Pleasanton Rage, was involved in the U.S. Olympic Development Program and scored 21 goals in four years for the Washington Huskies.
She attended a U.S. under-23 training camp last year, but with the odds of cracking the senior roster against her, she accepted an invitation to play for Mexico. During her junior season at Washington, a member of the Mexican coaching staff had seen her play in Los Angeles against Southern California. Perez was among five Mexican Americans on the Mexico roster during World Cup qualifying.
"Mexico gave me the chance to play for the senior team right away," said Perez, who made her international debut in March against the United States, a 3-0 American victory in San Diego. "I knew it was going to be harder to make it to the U.S. senior team. They had me playing with the under-23s. I didn't know if I could ever do it."
Perez was drafted by St. Louis Athletica in WPS and made one appearance this season. When Athletica folded after six matches, she didn't receive any offers from the other clubs. So she trained with the women's team at Washington and joined Mexico for two or three camps.
At the qualifying tournament in Cancun, with her mom and aunt in attendance, she started one group match and entered as a reserve in another. Then in the semifinal against the United States, she beat Heather Mitts to a cross and nodded an eight-yard header inside the left post to give Mexico a 2-1 lead midway through the first half and ultimately a World Cup berth.
The Americans, world titans for 20 years and who were 24-0-1 vs. Mexico, recovered to defeat Costa Rica in the third-place game but now must get past Italy in a two-leg playoff this month.
In the CONCACAF championship game, which had no bearing on qualifying, Perez was red-carded early in the second half for an intentional handball during a 1-0 loss to Canada.
When the Cancun celebrations ended with Mexico rejoicing over its first World Cup berth since 1999, Perez returned to chilly Seattle. She hopes to play in WPS next year before preparing for a trip to Germany -- an odyssey that she helped make possible.
"I was happy to play for a country," she said. "I was proud to represent Mexico."
| November 11, 2010; 5:03 PM ET
Categories: Mexico, Women | Tags: women's soccer
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