It’s pure passion for the sport that’s driving one young woman to build a professional women’s soccer team in Austin. With her experience on and off the field, Anna Villarreal, Founder of the The Nationals, is hoping to show the community what women’s soccer is all about while giving some amazing athletes a chance to play the sport they love.
“Through promoting women’s soccer, we want to make soccer more of a lifestyle,” says Villarreal. “We want to show people that you can play soccer when you’re five or 55. Furthermore, we find that promoting women’s soccer isn’t just about playing on the field. It’s about showcasing these girls off the field as well. They’re all college educated, smart, funny and sporty. There are lots of things about them that I feel people don’t see. We want teen girls to look up to them as role models and know that they can reach the next level while playing soccer or other sports.”
For about two years, Villarreal contemplated creating a women’s soccer team, but it wasn’t until September 2012 that she moved ahead with her plan. She has been working tirelessly ever since. A go-getter by nature, she’s worked on every aspect of her team’s development—from securing partnerships with local and national businesses, to selecting Mark Carr to be the head coach and naming Kelsey Hood as the team captain.
“[Hood] is really intense as an individual,” says Villarreal. “She’s an awesome soccer player and makes sure that everyone performs at the highest level. That’s why I chose her. She was also instrumental in helping me get the girls on the team.”
Tryouts concluded last month, and the team is currently practicing for their first match on Saturday, February 16, 2013 against Texas A&M in College Station. Being the only professional women’s soccer team in the area and an exhibition team, The Nationals are scheduled to play a number of collegiate women’s soccer teams this season. In the future, they hope to be able to play other professional teams from across the country.
Two home games are scheduled for this season and will be played at St. Edward’s University. The first game will be held on Saturday, February 23, 2013 against Monterrey and the second on Friday, March 8, 2013 against St. Edward’s University.
Villarreal believes the first home game will help change people’s perception of soccer. The Nationals will compete against a Mexican youth national team.
“A team of youth boys, ages 15-16, is the cusp of where the competition can be for adult females,” says Villarreal. “By bringing them out, we hope to get Hispanic men out to see that our girls can compete against the guys and change perception that way–let them know that we are a legitimate team.”
While her goal is to have the best professional women’s soccer team in the country, charitable giving and community involvement are just as important. This season, the team will spend time with organizations like GENaustin, Caritas of Austin and the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. They hope to connect with the documented refugees seeking assistance from Caritas of Austin through the international sport of soccer, and they hope to show children—especially Hispanic girls—that playing sports helps build self-confidence and keeps you going in school. By staying in school, these players were able to play soccer at the college level and earn degrees.
“We have a lot of things we are going to do in the community,” says Villarreal. “When you meet the girls off the field, you’re going to see them in a different light. They’re going to be real people that you can have a conversation with and form some kind of acquaintanceship with.”
Villarreal is confident that her team will show the world just how beautiful soccer really is. “Soccer is super technical,” she adds. “You have to be so on point and knowledgeable about the game that it can be really beautiful when a team gets to passing around the ball, and they’re stringing together 14 or 15 passes on the field.”
Passionate about providing women with an avenue to succeed as professional athletes and individuals, Villarreal organized The Nationals as an opportunity for women to play professional soccer. She hopes female athletes who desire to be professional soccer players will one day be able to earn a good living doing it.