Venezuela is no stranger to gold diggers, wildcats, and outside entities vying for opportunities to exploit her natural resources. Well, they’ve struck gold again, this time in the soccer field, and foreign scouts should be smacking their lips and rubbing their hands together right now, figuring out how they can share in the profits!
La Vinotinto has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup, nor placed higher than 4th in the Copa América. Are we talking about the same team? Not exactly. Talented athletes tend to get snatched up by recruiters for Venezuela’s first love—baseball. But not when it comes to women’s soccer.
At the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics in China, 15-year-old Deyna Castellanos, the highest goalscorer, drove her team to earn Venezuela a silver medal. Suddenly, football became an exciting, hopeful topic on the tattered thoroughfares of this South American country. That same year, Castellanos practically dragged her team single-handedly (or, perhaps, single footedly?) to 4th place at the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica. Scoring six goals, she earned the Golden Boot Award. People began to stop Castellanos in the streets to take pictures with her.
Two years later, at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan, Venezuela placed 4th again, thanks in part to a fantastic goal Castellanos kicked directly from center circle (you’ve gotta watch this on YouTube). That time, she took home the Bronze Ball, the Bronze Boot and secured an all time high scoring record at FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup with 11 goals. People started using words like “lo maximo, la major, legend and the ‘new Marta’ of Venezuela”. But that’s not all. Castellanos drove Venezuela to victory at the 2016 South American U-17 Women’s Football Championship with 12 goals and another Golden Boot award.
There are those that love to play soccer, and there are those that are born to play soccer.
So, in 2017, where is she and what is she doing? Castellanos immigrated to the United States last year and enrolled at Florida State University. Besides studying, she divides her time playing for the Seminoles, California’s Santa Clarita Blue Heat (United Women’s Soccer) and the Venezuela National Team. Now, that’s what you call a busy schedule.
She got off to an impressive start at Florida State; in fact, the new Seminole shot a goal in each of her first three games, scored the winning goal against Texas A&M in the first two minutes of gameplay, and went on to earn the first ever Goal-of-the-Year award for FSU.
Then there’s California’s Santa Clarita Blue Heat. They were the 2016 United Women’s Soccer champions and desperately want to keep their winning streak. Joined by Castellanos, who is already the team’s leading scorer, things are looking good. The California Gold Rush may be over, but there’s a golden nugget in their midst.
Meanwhile, Venezuela is basking in the Castellanos glow. Not only has the team’s undeniable success lifted the country’s battered morale, but coaches, who once discouraged little sister participation, no longer turn away female soccer enthusiasts. After all, Deyna Castellanos was once the sibling on the sidelines, and where gold was discovered once, it could be found again.
That brings us back to gold diggers and prospectors. While Castellanos, a sophomore, gets polished into an even finer athlete, which country will try to lay claim on this golden center forward? Many expect a European team will snatch her up, adding a superb piece of machinery to an already fine-tuned motor. I wager that a player like Castellanos will make her mark even in the midst of the long-standing successful teams like the Deutsche Fußballnationalmannschaft der Frauen.
Whatever is forked over for her recruitment will be money well spent, for Castellanos is a legend in the making, and legends, like gold mines, are hard to find and harder to hold on to. A player that leads naturally, that inspires without trying, that plays from the heart and for the reputation of the team (and just happens to score lots of extraordinary winning goals), well she’d be worth her weight in gold!