By ELIZABETH VALENTE, ,Valley Community Newspaper writer
The 2012 Summer Olympics are underway in London, and Micaela Mercado has an idea about how some of the Olympians, especially the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, are probably feeling as they compete against top athletes in their field.
“They are probably feeling nervous,” said the 14-year-old Greenhaven resident. “They know their country is watching and depending on them to bring home the gold. I am sure they are pretty nervous, but at the same time are staying focus and keeping as calm as possible.”
The McClatchy High School sophomore knows a little something about pressure.
Mercado has just returned from playing soccer in Sweden, at the 2012 Gothia Cup.
The Gothia Cup is considered the world’s largest and most international youth soccer tournament. Nearly 1,600 teams from 70 nations participate in the Gothia Cup, also known as the World Youth Cup.
For one week in the middle of July, the city of Gothenburg is transformed into a mini “United Nations-with-shinguards.” Teams from South Africa, Germany, Brazil and more come out to compete.
The teams live and eat together at a local school, all the while playing soccer by day and hanging out in the hallways sharing culture, music and Facebook addresses at night.
Mercado says playing at an elite soccer tournament has helped her develop into a complete player.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Mercado, who plays locally with the San Juan Sprites.
Teens ‘invited’ to play at the Gothia Cup hope this opportunity will allow them to stand out within the large field of competition, she said.
“It’s only the biggest, international event a teen player can be a part of,” Mercado said. “Many professional women soccer players have competed at the Gothia Cup at one time in their lives.”
Mercado hopes to be one of them.
Her invitation to the Gothia Cup was not by chance, but by fate. It all began in late May when she scored the only winning goal for her Folsom soccer team, the San Juan Spirits, against a girls team from San Diego (1-0).
Her winning kick landed her a spot to play with Washington State’s Crossfire Premiere team.
Once again, thanks to Mercado’s powerful kick, the Crossfire Premier Girls won the Manchester United Premier Cup at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. over Memorial Day weekend, earning the team a free trip to the Gothia Cup in Sweden.
All of the expenses for the trip were paid for by Nike.
“Throughout this whole experience I felt like I was going to the Olympics,” Mercado said. “It was fun. What I love about this sport is the rush you get when you score a goal, the teams we play and the pressure and competition that the sport entails. It’s something I crave.”
While at the Gothia Cup, Mercado and her adoptive Washington teammates played against other soccer players from China, Mexico, Brazil and Sweden.
“I was a little nervous at first because I know they are great competition,” she said. “It’s all really a mental and physical game. Every time I step on the field, I love knowing that I’m about to go play the game. When I step on the field, everything else just goes away and I can just play.”
During the first two days of games, the U.S. team was able to beat all of its opponents in its bracket, until “Day 3 – Knockouts.”
The team to beat was home favorite Sweden.
After nearly two hours on the playing field, team USA and Sweden were still tied at 0-0 by the end of the game, forcing the two teams to go to penalty kick.
That is when team USA made a goal, and then Sweden made a goal. Despite the loud, distractive cheers and yelling from the field, Mercado managed to maintain her focus and scored the second goal kick for the U.S.
Host team Sweden, however, managed to score the final two goals ending the game 4-2.
The United States has won the last three World Youth Cups. This year the team from Washington did not disappoint. The Crossfire Premier team came in third in its division, bringing home the bronze medal.
“After the game we were a little disappointed, but in the end as a team we played well and we did place in the top three,” Mercado said. “It was a good achievement in the end.”
After this experience Mercado, who kicked her first soccer ball at age 4 playing for the Greenhaven Hornets, has aspirations for Olympic competition.
“That is my end goal, to play professionally for team USA,” she said. “Until then, all I can do is continue to work on my body structure, run and train to get better.”