Mariela Jacome was in Ecuador visiting her grandmother after wrapping up her first season at St. John’s when her uncle suggested she should go kick the ball around with the country’s national team.
Six months later, Jacome is playing for Ecuador at the Women’s World Cup.
Jacome is among several current U.S. college players who are playing for other nations in the World Cup, which is being played over the next month in six Canadian cities. The final is set for July 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Quite a summer break.
Ecuador is playing for the first time in the World Cup. La Tricolor, as the team is known, earned a spot in women’s soccer’s premier tournament by defeating Trinidad and Tobago in a two-leg playoff late last year before Jacome joined the team.
The Women’s World Cup expanded this year to 24 teams, and eight are newcomers. Like the other rookie teams, La Tricolor isn’t expected to go very far — they got blown out 6-0 by Cameroon in their group-stage opener on Monday — but Jacome is relishing the experience.
“I got tickets to the World Cup as a Christmas present and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I got the best gift ever, I get to watch a World Cup game live,'” she said. “Now I’m playing in it. Absolutely insane.”
Jacome, a forward/midfielder who hails from New York state, appeared in all 20 games for St. John’s her freshman year, starting in one. After the season ended, she set off to Ecuador for winter break to visit her ailing grandmother. Jacome’s late father was from Ecuador.
At her uncle’s urging she ended up working out with Ecuador for three days, touching off a whirlwind of change over the next several months. Jacome signed up for online classes at St. John’s for the next term and moved to Ecuador to train full time with the team. The deal was sealed when coach Vanessa Arauz put Jacome on her 23-player roster.
“Big change for freshman year,” she joked. “It was a huge opportunity. After a three-day session to hear, ‘We’re considering you for the World Cup’ — that just doesn’t happen. It was incredible.”
St. John’s coach Ian Stone called Jacome one of the hardest-working players he’s ever coached.
“I was already really excited for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada; now to have one of our own student-athletes playing in it is remarkable,” he said.
Mexico’s roster has 12 players who have U.S. roots and several amateurs who currently play for college teams stateside, including defender Christina Murillo, a senior at Michigan.
Murillo, who redshirted last season so she could train with Mexico, has quite the “what I did over summer break” story to tell her friends come this fall.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was about 4 years old,” said Murillo, who is from Ojai, California. “And I’m excited to be able to come back to Michigan with more experience, and spread that experience to my teammates.”
Mexico played Costa Rica to a 1-1 tie on Tuesday in its group-stage opener in Moncton, New Brunswick. Mexico is appearing in its third World Cup after qualifying in the CONCACAF championship in October.
Mexico’s roster also includes the Perez sisters: Starting midfielder Veronica is a Washington alum and little sister Amanda is a junior midfielder for the Huskies. The sisters are Northern California natives.
“I just love soccer, so I’m just like wherever I can play I’ll go,” Amanda Perez said. “I’m having a great time.”
Other college players include Alabama junior college transfer Celia Jimenez Delgado, who plays for her native Spain; Tennessee senior forward Hannah Wilkinson, who plays for her native New Zealand; Penn State senior captain Raquel Rodriguez, who was born in Costa Rica and plays for Costa Rica; and West Virginia juniors Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence, native Canadians who play for their country.
Jacome’s appearance in the World Cup fulfills a promise she made to her father before he died in 2008.
“It was like eight months before he passed away and we were sitting in an indoor soccer field watching a team play,” she said. “We were talking and he said to me, ‘I want you to play at the highest level possible. You can do it.’ Flash forward like six years later and it’s happening.”
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