Uruguayan female soccer star pursuing big dreams both on and off the field

By Santiago Carbone

Montevideo, Jun 4 (efe-epa).- Uruguay’s Juliana Castro already can boast of a long list of accomplishments in soccer and at the age of 28 is aiming to achieve even more, yet she also has earned a degree in physical education and hopes to leverage her knowledge and experience to pursue a coaching career in the future.

The sister of Gonzalo “Chory” Castro, a former player for Spanish-league teams Mallorca, Real Sociedad and Malaga, was interviewed by Efe during an individual training session amid the coronavirus pandemic and spoke about having to overcome setbacks as a girl, the current state of Uruguayan soccer and playing the sport at the collegiate level in the United States.

Castro, a forward for Montevideo squad Club Nacional de Football who also has played for her country’s national team, said she showed an ability for the game at an early age that was not appreciated by a rival coach.

“You could see he didn’t like that I scored against (his team) and was annoyed that I played better than his boys,” she added.

The coach therefore successfully petitioned to keep her off the field, noting that the league rules did not indicate that soccer could be a mixed-gender sport. Because of his action, Castro was unable to compete in organized soccer until the rule was changed a year later.

Even so, Castro – a native of the southern city of Trinidad – now recalls that her love of the sport was never affected and she continued to train over that 12-month period.

Years later, the young woman pursued her dreams in the United States and played university soccer at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri, an experience that gave her a taste of the high level of play in that country and the infrastructure that has made the US a four-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion.

By comparison, Castro said Uruguayan soccer is “very slow” and there is a dearth of competition, adding that this explains why local teams struggle in international competitions.

“If Uruguayan soccer wants to aspire to a higher competitive level, it’s going to have to change its league model,” she said.

In that regard, she said very few institutions train in places where players’ basic training needs are met, although she recognized that most men’s teams also must make do with sub-par infrastructure.

Castro, however, hailed her team’s decision earlier this year to sign three players – young national team members Esperanza Pizarro, Antonella Ferradans and Josefina Villanueva – to paid professional contracts, an unprecedented move in the history of women’s soccer in Uruguay.

“It was moving for a lot of people,” she said, adding that a lot of work remains to be done in Uruguay “for the good of the girls coming up in the future.”

At the time of those three signings, Club Nacional de Football also announced that its plan is for all first-team players to be earning a salary by 2021.

When group training sessions were suspended on March 13 after the first four Covid-19 cases were detected in Uruguay, Juliana and her teammates had to start training individually, a process she said has been “complicated.”

“Luckily we have (the web conferencing platform) Zoom, which has helped us to be in contact with all of the players and the coaches. It’s tough because the reality is different for each player; the conditions that each of them has is not the same,” said Castro, who is Nacional’s all-time leading scorer and also has been the top scorer in the Uruguayan women’s soccer league on four occasions (2009, 2016, 2017 and 2018).

The practice sessions typically take place in the afternoon, a schedule that she said is not convenient for several players who must work at other jobs to earn a living.

Even so, she said she is trying to make the best of the situation.

“The truth is that today I’m very happy with what I’ve achieved and with what I’m going to continue to achieve as a player,” she said after insinuating that after retiring she can leverage her experience – and university degree – to forge a new career as a coach. EFE-EPA


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