Salvadoran women’s soccer struggles to make strides with limited support

By Hugo Sanchez

San Salvador, Feb 23 (EFE).- Kelly Valle, the 13-year-old captain of the Capitanes Woman soccer team in El Salvador, has her sights set on becoming a professional and playing her sport in big stadiums.

And she refuses to let the current state of her sport in that Central American nation dampen her spirit.

“I like playing soccer because it’s something that’s always been with me and I’m very passionate about,” she told Efe in the central town of Lourdes, near San Salvador.

Seated in the living room of her house, Valle says days without soccer are tedious for her.

“I need to play every day because otherwise it’s boring. Soccer’s very special to me,” the teenager said before finishing her homework and getting ready for practice.

Valle is the youngest of three sisters, all of whom play the sport with their mother’s support, and also the youngest player on her team.

Capitanes Woman was founded last October as a new team in the National U-19 Women’s Soccer League, which the Salvadoran Soccer Federation (Fesfut) promotes as part of its search for U-17 and U-20 national team talent.

Fesfut covers the cost of referees and the teams’ transportation expenses, but Capitanes Woman still lacks the money for away kits and extra practice balls.

“It’s been tough from the start because we keep losing, but you learn from that,” said the young captain, who said she was proud of the team’s attitude in the last match despite a 10-1 final deficit on the scoreboard.

That lone goal was the team’s first in the competition and one that the players celebrated with World Cup-like enthusiasm.

Vladimir Gutierrez, a medical doctor and the coach of Capitanes Woman, told Efe there has been a sea change in terms of the number of girls playing soccer.

“A few years ago it was very strange to see a girl playing. Now it’s quite common and they play quite well,” he said during one of the team’s practices. “We’re on that path (toward professionalism). A few things are missing, but we’re on the right path.”

The coach of El Salvador’s national youth squads and women’s national team, Erick Acuña, told Efe that in the process of putting those teams together he has scouted more than 800 girls, teenagers and young women in different local leagues and outside the country.

He stressed that the main objective for Salvadoran women’s soccer going forward should be “professionalization.”

Valle for her part lamented that men’s soccer enjoys much more support and interest. Even so, she says she is determined to live out her dream of “playing in different places, in stadiums.”

Despite the challenges, efforts to provide financial and moral support to women’s soccer in El Salvador have been evident in recent months.

In June 2021, Fesfut posted a video on its social media channels in which members of the national women’s soccer team call on El Salvador’s first division to continue supporting female soccer under “equal conditions.”

Fesfut also allocated $240,000 to support women’s first-division teams last year, an amount drawn from the pandemic aid package provided to El Salvador’s soccer federation by FIFA.

An additional $260,000 has been earmarked for the development of women’s soccer in the country and the preparation of female national squads. EFE

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