Randy Hollis: Carla Swensen has unique opportunity to play soccer for Colombia

Published: Monday, Sept. 23 2013 8:40 p.m. MDT

"But this is that one opportunity I've been waiting for and working toward for my whole life, so it takes priority over playing high school soccer. Now I'm just focusing on that national camp and doing what I need to do to give me an opportunity to make the team."

With that lofty goal in mind, Swensen has been busy working out, running and lifting weights to stay in optimum shape. And she's been training regularly with a U-18 boys premier league team and playing in adult co-ed Latino leagues to help her keep her timing and skill level as high as possible as she prepares for her first-ever trip to Colombia.

That makes this opportunity all the more special for her.

"That's where my mother's family is from, so that's my culture and my heritage," said Swensen, who speaks fluent Spanish. "My grandparents on my mom's side only speak Spanish, and my mother's cousins and aunts and uncles live there. I'll be in the same town where my mother grew up, where she was born and raised, and where my extended family lives — my aunts, uncles and cousins — so I'll be able to see the farm where my mother was raised. I have all these different family members who live there, some who I've never seen or had a chance to spend any time with. So now everything's coming together for us. It's a very special opportunity for me."

Swensen said that the type of soccer they play in Colombia differs somewhat from how they play the game in the United States, and the Colombian brand of soccer actually plays more to her strengths.

"It's just a different cultural thing," she said. "They play very differently there than we do here in the states. Here, players are very athletic, and all the focus is on power, speed and athleticism. You see it with the U.S. Women's National Team, which has a bunch of big, strong, athletic women.

"In Colombia, the game is not based as much on power and speed. It's based more on technical skill and the creative aspect of the game. I'm not a big, strong girl myself (5-foot-3 and well under 100 pounds), so it's almost like I favor that creative, more technical side of soccer.

"I don't know what their skill level is," she said of the other camp members and national team hopefuls. "I haven't seen any of those girls play, and that's what I'm most nervous about — the unknown. Once I get into it a week, I'll be more comfortable. But right now I have no clue how good the other players are and I have no clue what the coaches are looking for. I'm doing everything I can to be the most prepared for it."

Swensen leaves for Colombia next Monday, and after a month-long camp, the team will be trimmed to 22 players at the end of October. If she makes the cut, she'll come home for a week or two and then go back to Colombia in November to train with the team. The South American Championships will then be played in late-December and January.

"I bought a soccer journal and set some goals for myself, and if I can accomplish those things, then I'll have no regrets no matter what happens," she said. "Even if I don't make the team, it'll be a great experience for me. I get to learn about my mother's culture and heritage and train with some other high-level international players.

"In order to be seen by their national team, they have created a selective group of girls. These 36 girls all come from various backgrounds, different cities, different economic situations. Some are coming from poverty, and these are girls who are different than I am in many different ways. Everything about this is so different for me — the food, the language — but when it comes to playing soccer, it's all the same.

"And to me that's kind of amazing," Swensen said. "It's not just that we're playing soccer; there are so many other things that make people equal and make us all as one.

"What I want to take out of this the most is all the people I get a chance to meet. It's still soccer, it's still a round ball, you can't use your hands, and whoever scores the most goals wins. But getting an opportunity to meet so many new people and do it in the birthplace of my mother makes this all the more special for me."

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