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Cross-country kicking

A change in the rules has given Californian Laurie Hill the chance to chase the Women's World Cup for Mexico all the way from Foxborough back to the Rose Bowl final

By Susan Bickelhaupt, Globe Staff, 04/21/99

` ``Quieres hablar conmigo en Espanol?'' asks Laurie Hill with a mischievous smile.

When a reporter begs off, Hill easily slides into English. It is, after all, her native language, and she is an American citizen, born and bred in Los Angeles.

But for the past year, Hill has been living south of the border. It's not so much for her love of Mexico as her love of soccer.

She tried twice to make the US national team, and was cut both times. Then, a year ago, a law allowed Hill to try another avenue. Having a Mexican mother meant that she could try out for the Mexican team.

She made the cut last summer, and now will be on one of the 16 teams vying for the Women's World Cup. Her team will play Italy in a first-round game in Foxborough June 27.

Hill was part of the Women's World Cup contingent that came to town yesterday as part of a seven-city tour to promote the tournament that begins June 16 and finishes at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., July 10. A total of five games will be played at Foxboro Stadium June 20, June 27, and July 4.

Marla Messing, president and CEO of the organizing committee, said it's her goal to make the World Cup the ``largest single woman's event ever held,'' and so far, she said, things are on the right track.

All 32 games will be broadcast either on ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2, and so far, 66 countries will air the games. In addition, the event has 19 corporate sponsors.

Ticket packages over the past 12 months have exceeded 325,000 sales. Single tickets just went on sale, ranging in price from $20 to $75 for the Boston games.

The committee also unveiled the World Cup trophy -- a spiraling band of sterling silver and laminated gold tapering upward to embrace a soccer ball -- and the World Cup theme song -- ``Because We Want To,'' by British pop star Billie Piper.

The American team was not on hand because it is training in Hershey, Pa., where it will face China tomorrow and again Sunday at Giants Stadium.

Hill, a 5-foot-1-inch midfielder who was a three-time All-American at the University of California at Santa Barbara, scored 27 goals and had 26 assists in her college career. She majored in biology and was accepted into nursing school, but put that on hold to pursue soccer. After college, she spent a year in Japan playing soccer professionally.

``I went to the national camps and tried out for the US team in 1992 and 1995, but didn't make it,'' said Hill, 29. ``I knew my chances of making the team were nonexistent. Then, when I got this opportunity, I took it.''

Hill, whose mother was born in Mexico City, said a law recently passed enables second-generation family to become naturalized Mexicans, which made her eligible for the Mexican team. The team, in fact, has seven Mexican-Americans on its roster.

When the team was playing in the same league as her club, in Berkeley, she played with them. ``So that was my tryout,'' she said.

She made the team, and in February represented Mexico in the FIFA World All-Star match.

Hill said she realizes she's playing for a country in which women's soccer has never gone to the Olympics, and where coach Leonardo Cuellar says there's a ``macho man'' mentality about the game.

``We're really breaking ground right now,'' said Hill, who likens her experiences to what the American women were going through a dozen years ago.

``I was talking to some of the US players, and when they first started they were washing their uniforms in the hotel sink,'' she said. ``That's what we've done this year. So the support could be better, but it's a gradual step. It's better than it was six months ago. When we first started, we didn't have a team doctor or a trainer.''

``Sure, it's frustrating at times, but adversity builds character,'' she said.

Hill, who worked on a search-and-rescue team and two years ago traveled solo through Guatemala to learn Spanish, said she's up for the challenge. In fact, she savors it.

``I think of it as kind of fate for me,'' she said. ``I'm someone who likes to be different, likes to be challenged, and that's how I see this experience. I mean it's a challenge, but that's when you learn the most, about yourself, about others. It's when you step out of your comfort zone and really push yourself that you learn, and that's how I see this experience.''

The other challenge will be if she faces the US team, which would happen only if both teams reach the quarterfinals.

That's OK, too, said Hill, who said she's known US midfielder Julie Foudy for about 15 years.

But Hill said she's happy on her side of the field.

``I wouldn't trade it for playing on the US team right now, because I'm learning more,'' Hill said.

All content herein is 1999 Globe Newspaper Company and may not be republished without permission. If you have questions or comments about the archives, please contact us at any time.


 


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