Monday, August 20, 2012
As her Seattle Sounders Women teammates were winning a gold medal, Veronica Perez was watching from her living room in Iceland.
“I was able to stream it live online,” Perez said by email recently. “Kate [Deines] and I were in our living room watching every second. We couldn’t take our eyes off the game. It was really exciting. They played great the entire tournament and I think my Sounders teammates stood out among all the players. To witness a team playing together, for each other, never giving up and show that determination to finish on top – you have to respect them.”
After leading the Sounders Women to the W-League Playoffs, and earning All-League honors as a result, Perez is now in Iceland trying to help her current club, Stjarnan, claim the league championship. Sitting in second place in the standings with five games to go in the season after their victory this past Tuesday, Perez and her Sounders Women teammate Deines are trying to help their side bridge a six-point gap to league-leader Thor / KA Akureyri.
Stjarnan has also reached the final of the Icelandic Cup, which is set to be held Saturday as they take on one of the club’s biggest rivals, Valur. Perez said the game in Iceland’s Urvalsdeild is less technical than in the W-League, but the competitiveness is very high.
“It is very direct and physical,” Perez said. “Since they aren’t overly technical they have developed a very strong work ethic. They will battle until the final whistle. I would say that even if the team is at the bottom of the table, the game is not easy. They will not stop and make you keep working.”
Following the cup final, and the end of the league season, Stjarnan will also compete in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, with the draw for the competition set to be made on Thursday. Perez’s side could face one of the top teams in Europe, such as defending champions Lyon of France, Germany’s Turbine Potsdam, or England’s Arsenal Ladies.
As fun as the competition overseas is proving for the Mexican international, though, she looks back on her time with the Sounders Women with great enjoyment. A native of California, Perez had in many ways adopted Seattle and the surrounding area as her home when she attended the University of Washington, and she relished being able to return to play in front of friends and family.
“Of course! It’s playing at home for me,” Perez said. “It’s fun to have your family and friends out there supporting the team each game. And it was awesome for all the Sounders players to help grow the sport and the women’s game in a city that thrives off of soccer. It was a special season.”
Perez was also full of praise for the club’s coaching staff, who managed to mix a varied group of players, from college standouts to international players, into a cohesive unit. While the Sounders weren’t able to get past the Pali Blues in any of their three meetings, including the Western Conference Championship Game, Perez said the overall summer was a success.
What’s next for the Sounders Women, and professional women’s soccer in the U.S. remains uncertain, though. As a player, Perez is looking for a longer season than the W-League in its current form can offer, with the limitations of the women’s college season restricting the length of the summer season. The question becomes what type of structure could allow a new league to succeed where others have fallen short.
“We had a great season this year with the Sounders,” Perez said. “Bringing in Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and the rest of the U.S. national team players created so much positive attention and they brought up the level each time they stepped foot on the pitch. We also built a team with young college players and talented local players that kept up quality of the game when the national team players weren’t available. … We have a lot of very good players in this league.
“We’ve had two women’s professional leagues fold. We need a viable model, salary caps, owners who are in it for the long term and players who are willing to be patient and want to develop this sport here and do it right.”
For now, at least, Perez will try to help Stjarnan succeed on the field, and wait to see what happens in the offseason back home. But regardless of what the future holds, the past summer will always be a memorable one.
“Seeing those 4,500+ fans at each one of our home games,” Perez said. “The huge smiles, the screaming fans, the posters, lines for autographs—the atmosphere the Seattle community created. I truly believe we inspired a lot of young players and even showed some-old timers that we can play beautiful soccer. We made a difference in somebody’s life, doing the thing we love most – playing football.”