Haley Espinoza grew up dreaming she would be a famous gymnast. The soon-to-be El Capitan High junior was really good, even competing at national events.
“Eventually I decided to quit,” Espinoza said. “I had to figure out what I was going to do to stay active.”
It turns out, Espinoza is really good at soccer, too.
Espinoza, 16, didn’t start playing soccer until she was 13 years old. Now three years late, Espinoza was selected to play on the NorCal Premiere’s Player Development Program 17U State Team in the Gothia Cup in Sweden, which is like the World Cup of youth soccer.
“It’s really exciting,” Espinoza said. “It’s actually an honor to be handpicked to represent NorCal and the United States.”
Espinoza is one of two local players from Merced making the trip. Julian Lomeli, 16, who played varsity soccer at Merced High the past two years as a freshman and sophomore, was selected for the NorCal Premiere’s PDP 17U boys state team.
The two were scheduled to fly to Sweden on Friday. The Gothia Cup will be held from Sunday, July 14-20 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Both Espinoza and Lomeli went through a six-month process to earn their spot on their respective teams.
Espinoza made monthly trips to Davis or Danville for practices, games and training sessions. Lomeli’s workouts were at McNamara Park in Merced.
They competed against 50 to 60 players to make the team. They had to earn their spot through a series of games and workouts.
“It’s a very high level of soccer,” said Espinoza, who was an all-Central California Conference first-team selection as a midfielder for the Gauchos. “It’s very competitive. You’re basically playing against the best girls in Northern California.”
Espinoza has also been selected to train with the San Jose Earthquakes Development Academy this upcoming year. She’ll train with the academy four times a week.
Lomeli is leaving Merced to join the Real Salt Lake Soccer Academy in Salt Lake, Utah.
“I think it’s going to be an interesting year,” Lomeli said. “I want to keep going and see where it takes me. I want to become a professional soccer player.”
It was Lomeli’s older brother, Adrian, who ignited the fire for soccer in him. Once he started watching videos of Lionel Messi he was hooked.
Lomeli is excited to travel to Europe.
“I want to see the culture,” Lomeli said. “I’ve never been anywhere else but Mexico. My dream is to play in Germany or Europe. Now I’m going to Europe for the first time.”
Espinoza says she’s leaving the country for the first time.
“It’s going to be an experience playing against different teams and playing other players from around the globe. We’re going to be playing against high level teams.”