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Huerta ’15 notches historic first in soccer border clash

Huerta ’15 notches historic first in soccer border clash

By Monique Beeler

Photo by Brad Smith/isiphotos.com
Five Broncos were on the scene for a historic friendly between the United States and Mexico.

Making international sports history—with four fellow Broncos on the scene? Not a bad day’s work for soccer player Sofia Huerta ’15.

When she subbed in during a match-up between the U.S. women’s national team and Mexico’s national squad April 8, Huerta became the first player to see time on the field for Mexico against the U.S.—and, now, for the U.S. against Mexico. Huerta, who previously suited up in the green Mexico jersey, received one-time approval from soccer’s governing body in September to switch national affiliation to the U.S. That, too, was a first for the sport

Huerta, a four-year starter and high-scoring forward in her Santa Clara soccer career, expresses allegiance to both sides of her heritage. As a child, the Idaho native frequently visited relatives in Mexico where her father was born.

“I would not be here with the U.S. if Mexico would not have supported me the way that they had,” she has said about switching national teams. “I have such pride and respect for them.”

“They will always be a big part of my life and my family.”

Family ties converged in other ways for the Santa Clara alumna during the two-game series between the U.S. and Mexico, played April 5 in Jacksonville, Florida, and April 8 in Houston. In addition to Huerta, Broncos in the mix included two on the field and two on the broadcasters’ bench for FOX Sports.

Leslie Osborne ’05 provided pre-game and halftime broadcast coverage for both games, while her former Bronco and World Cup teammate Aly Wagner ’03 was match commentator.

Match No. 1 saw goalkeeper Bianca Henninger ’12—who played with Huerta at Santa Clara—commanding Mexico’s defense. (In the National Women’s Soccer League, Huerta’s Chicago Red Stars compete against Henninger’s Houston Dash.) The final Bronco in the mix: current Santa Clara student-athlete Maria Sanchez ’19.

In each game, Sanchez subbed in during the second half for Mexico’s star forward.

Adding to the drama—and Santa Clara connection—moments after Huerta joined match No. 2 as a U.S. defender, she clashed for the ball with Sanchez, drawing a foul. The penalty may have gone against Huerta, but the final tally for both days favored the U.S., who beat Mexico 4–1 and 6–2.

Sanchez wishes her team had fared better on the scoreboard but shared in the enthusiasm about Huerta’s historic moment.

“I was really happy for her to get on the field and get to do that, especially knowing she’s from Idaho,” says Sanchez, who grew up in American Falls, Idaho, about 200 miles east of Huerta’s hometown, Boise.

Unlike Huerta, Sanchez says she’s not contemplating a switch of national teams.

“I definitely still want to play with Mexico,” she says.“It’s like a childhood dream of mine; I grew up around Mexican culture. We’re growing as a team: new coach, new players, young team. I want to be part of history for Mexico.”

She’s found a like-minded Mexico teammate in Henninger, who joined the squad in 2016 after representing the U.S. on youth national teams.

In a recent podcast, Henninger, a third-generation Bronco (mother: Marilyn Moreno ’79; grandfather: J. Hector Moreno ’83) whose grandparents were born in Mexico, discussed the move.

“I took a long time to think about it,” says Henninger, who played every minute in the first match while a more senior Mexico keeper tended goal in the second game. “For me personally, it’s where I knew I was supposed to be. It ended up working out, and I am loving my time there right now.”

As Osborne pointed out for fans during a pre-game show, the recent matches are considered important preparation for regional World Cup qualifying rounds scheduled in October.

“You’re getting an inside glimpse into what you need to work on, what needs to happen for the rest of the summer,” Osborne observed. “These are huge games, and taking advantage of any and every training day you can (is critical).”

Sanchez says her side has already benefited—and will be better equipped to take on all comers in the fall. For starters: As a team, they need to adjust to a quicker, world-class pace. Her personal agenda: Focus on using her right foot to maneuver inside toward the goal instead of driving too deep into the corner.

“We needed a week like this to compete against a team like them that’s now the best in the world,” she says. “The only way to grow is to actually do it and work on it.”

As for brushing elbows with so many Broncos in one place, Sanchez says she was aware of their presence and looks forward to future meet-ups—with hopes of seeing more familiar Santa Clara faces next time.

“I saw Leslie walk by our Mexico bench,” she says. “It was crazy—different teams, different things, all Santa Clara. We all played for the same coach.”

The one thing missing? U.S. midfielder Julie Johnston Ertz ’14, who was sidelined by injury.

“That would have been crazy—two and two for each team,” Sanchez says. “We may see them again in October.”

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