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In changing the face of soccer, Latinas keep eyes on the prize

Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

LOS ANGELES -- It's a steamy Saturday morning in Norco, and the girls from downtown are flying.

April Flores streaks downfield, smoothly passes the ball to Nayelli Barahona, who kicks it over to Michelle Bracamonte, who boots a 20-yard laser past a diving goalkeeper.

They leap, they hug, they squeal, and four minutes later, they win. The game is decided by that one goal, the Downtown Los Angeles Soccer Club's team of 15- and 16-year-olds having slayed another giant in a 1-0 victory over Chino's champion Legends FC team at the SilverLakes Equestrian and Sports Park.

"It was pretty good," says a sweaty Bracamonte as she walks away from field 12 with her exhausted teammates. "They body us ... we need to body them back."

For this group of mostly Latina athletes facing economic and cultural battles that have long kept them on the soccer sidelines, the fight continues.

Downtown, as it's commonly known, is fueled by 175 girls trying to crack the grass ceiling. They are attempting to alter the current women's soccer portrait of rich and white. They're hoping to eventually change the face of a World Cup champion U.S. women's national soccer team whose 23-person roster was missing a key piece in its celebration of diversity.

 

During a victory speech in New York City last week, U.S. star Megan Rapinoe said, "We got white girls, black girls and everything in between."

Actually, they don't. The team had five players of color, but no Latinas. The girls from Downtown found it hard to relate to a group that doesn't look like them.

"No, they don't," says Barahona, Downtown's 15-year-old striker. "That's why ... I like watching them and everything, but I still say my idol is Lionel Messi."

Their dreams are distant ones. They come from households that can't afford normal soccer club fees that range from $2,000 to $5,000 annually. They are raised in a culture that has not traditionally embraced sports for women. They live in city areas from where top women's academies spread throughout Southern California are not easily accessible.

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