Article written by Hannah Enad, contributor to Keeper Notes for the Houston Dash and women’s soccer.
The U-17 Women’s World Cup officially kicked off on Saturday, March 15 and is being hosted in Costa Rica. The World Cup – no matter what age level – is a prestigious tournament to be a part of, where only the most elite players of a nation are called up to represent and play for their country. There should be a sense of pride to know that of the twenty-one players on Mexico’s roster for the World Cup, three of them play club soccer in the Houston area.
Center back Vanessa Flores (Albion Hurricanes FC), defender Kimberly Rodriguez and goalkeeper Emily Alvarado (both from Texas Rush) have all been called in to compete for the U-17 WWC for Mexico’s National Team. Keeper Notes spoke to the player’s local coaches ahead of the group stage of the competition to get some insight on the players and their development.
Kimberly Rodriguez: Midfielder & Defender, Texas Rush
Rodriguez, also known as K-Rod, joined Texas Rush at the age of 10 and has become a member of the nationally ranked U-15 ECNL team. Her talent on the field has earned her several other opportunities, including playing with U-17 ECNL team in four national events around the country. Rodriguez’ first exposure to the national team level was actually with the United States when she attended a U-14 national team camp in Cary, North Carolina. However, eligible to represent the United States, Mexico, or Costa Rica based on the heritage of her family, she decided to represent Mexico and found herself becoming one of the key players in the team’s starting eleven.
Texas Rush’s Director of Coaching, Andrew Squire on Rodriguez
“Kim is one of the most technically gifted players I have coached. Her comfort level with the ball is remarkable, even in the most congested areas of the field playing against girls and boys much older. Her ability to posses the ball and bring other players into the game is very unique. She is dominant defensively both in the air and in the tackle. She is everything you could ask for a midfield player, strong in all aspect of the game. Now our job as coaches is to develop her skill set so she can do it at the highest level. This World Cup will be a great test for her, but one that I feel she is more than ready for. Kim is one of the players that you enjoy watching perform, her creativity and skill appear effortless, but as her coach I know it has come after huge amounts of hours on the practice field.”
Emily Alvarado: Goalkeeper, Texas Rush
Alvarado is a resident of El Paso, and travels extensively to participate in ECNL games with Texas Rush. This bit of information should give everyone an idea of her passion and dedication to play the game at the highest level, considering El Paso is about 10 hours from the city of Houston. Alvarado actually joined Texas Rush 18 months ago, and has benefited from the platform Texas Rush and the ECNL can provide. Shortly after joining the club, Alvarado was called into the Mexican National Team and was being recruited as a potential student-athlete by virtually every major Division 1 soccer program in the nation. Her performances with the U-17 ECNL team have been similar to that with the national team—heroic! On the way to winning the CONCACAF Cup, subsequently qualifying for the U-17 World Cup, Emily saved four penalties on a shootout scenario. Additionally, FIFA has listed Alvarado as a key player for the U-17 World Cup.
Texas Rush’s Director of Coaching, Andrew Squire on Alvarado
“It is a real testament to the Texas Rush Soccer Club that a player of Emily’s caliber is willing to commute the distance she does to play for our ECNL program. We are more than grateful to provide a soccer home for her here in Houston. A great deal of credit must go to her coaches in El Paso, Javier McDonald and Leo Alvarado who coach Emily’s local team, Galactica’s. More schools than I can count are recruiting Emily… It has been a real pleasure to help her with this process. She is a special talent and this U-17 World Cup is just the start of many great opportunities coming her way.”
Vanessa Flores: Center Back, Albion Hurricanes FC
Flores, a junior in high school, has been in the Albion program since she was twelve years old. She is often the captain of her teams, and is currently captain of the AHFC 97G ECNL team. Since AHFC’s Russell Gee recommended that a Mexican scout come out to watch her play at a national showcase in Frisco in 2013, Flores has successfully captivated the Mexican National Team officials with her talents on the field. They have continuously invited her into camp since then, and decisively found her impressive enough to add to the U-17 WWC roster. Flores missed a national team championship with the AHFC last July to attend one of Mexico’s national team camps. However, despite her location, Flores managed to join a team meeting that the AHFC had during the nationals, because she requested to be included via Facetime. That’s dedication and commitment. To no surprise, Flores is being scouted by several colleges and universities, but has apparently found the process to be a much more difficult task than anticipated.
Albion Hurricanes’ Program Director for Girls, Russell Gee on Flores
“She is one of those players that are born leaders. She has that aura—people just respect her. Her teammates believe in her abilities on the field, and believe in her abilities off the field. She leads by example, all the time. She’s demanding, and she loves the game of soccer. She’s a great defender, very good at 1v1 defending. She’s very good with her recovery runs. She knows when to step and when to hold. She’s a dynamic defender. She’s a very committed young lady, because she has to travel about an hour to get to our fields, three nights a week. I see many attributes of Lauren [Holiday] in Vanessa.” Note: Gee has also coached U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Lauren Holiday.
Another player who should also be noted for her accomplishments is Texas Rush’s attacking midfielder/forward Briana Woodall. Unfortunately, due to an ACL injury she suffered right before the tournament, Mexico was forced to remove her from the roster.
Woodall joined Texas Rush at just eleven years old. In her four years with the club, she has managed to become the leading goal scorer in her age group and is currently a member of the U-15 ECNL team, which is ranked #16 in the country by Top Drawer Soccer. Woodall was invited into her first Mexico U-17 National Team Camp in 2013 and quickly became a regular. She scored her first international goal against the United States in the CONCACAF semi-final, which allowed Mexico to go on to beat Canada in the final and qualify for the 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cup. Woodall was listed on the FIFA website as one of Mexico’s key players leading up to the World Cup. Unfortunately, Briana suffered an injury to her right knee, diagnosed as a complete ACL tear. She underwent surgery in Mexico on Friday, March 7 and is currently under the care of the Mexico National Team doctors for the first stage of her rehabilitation.
After providing insight on the players in the World Cup, Squire and Gee elaborated about their pride in their respective programs and how it impacts the players.
Gee: “I want the players to go on to play for the national teams, but I also get a great satisfaction when a player texts me and says, ‘I’m going to such and such school…’ I’ve been very fortunate to put players in good colleges. It’s about the players. It’s not just about the national teams; it’s about their education as well. If you can get them into college—playing college [soccer]—and getting their four-year education at the same time, then you’ve done what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Squire: “Nothing has made me prouder as a coach than to see Texas Rush players invited to represent their country on the international stage, performing in front of thousands of people and their family and friends at home watching on TV. As coaches, we work very long hours developing our curriculum, researching our methods and applying our knowledge to the players. It is a long and progressive process. I cannot emphasize enough that this does not happen by coincidence, the meticulous approach must also be matched by the player in order to succeed at this level. A huge amount of sacrifice on behalf of the player is necessary. Two of the girls are “home-schooled” meaning they are being tutored when most other teenagers are out with friends being teenagers. Their team only trains 4-5 hours per week, not nearly enough to develop the technical proficiency required to perform with the best players in the world. Each of the girls attend extra training sessions, usually with the boys where they are exposed to different demands. This is in addition to the countless hours they spend on the practice field with no coach, teammates or parents, just them and the ball. The U-17 World Cup is just the first of many great opportunities for each of these players. Each player is on the radar of every major university in the country and with each player being relatively young for the U17 level, their potential is huge and their journey from this point forward is an exciting one. On behalf of the Texas Rush, we wish K-rod and Emily good luck for the World Cup and BW best wishes during her rehab process. The club could not be prouder of their accomplishments!”
Mexico is in Group D of the U-17 WWC, along with Columbia, China, and Nigeria.