SPU's Diaz Hoping to Make World Cup Soccer Team
Diaz (15)  is looking for roster berth on Philippines national team.
Diaz (15) is looking for roster berth on Philippines national team.

Friday, April 19, 2013

SPU Sports Information

SEATTLE – What started on a whim in California could finish at the Women's World Cup in Canada.

At least, that's what Alexa Diaz has in mind.

Already working out with her Seattle Pacific soccer teammates for the spring exhibition schedule, Diaz soon will have a chance to work out with the Philippine national team as they get ready to begin the qualification process for Canada 2015.

“I literally had to pause for a moment,” Diaz said of the evening before Easter when Philippines head coach Ernest Nierras informed her that she was one of 15 players to make the final cut from a weeklong training camp in Corona, Calif. “Did this really just happen? I said, 'Just hold on, give me a minute – say that to me one more time.' ”

In May, Diaz will be part of a group of 35 U.S.- and Canadian-resident Filipina players eyeing 15 spots on the 23-player Malditas team for the group-stage portion of the Women's Asian Cup. Those Group B games will be played through a span of five days in Bangladesh: May 21 against Iran, May 23 against top-seeded Thailand, and May 25 against host Bangladesh.

The four group winners will join Australia, South Korea, China and defending Women's World Cup champion Japan for the Asian Cup finals next year.

From those eight teams, five will earn tickets to Canada for 2015.

“We would be the first Philippine team ever to qualify for the World Cup,” Diaz said. “(Nierras) put some high standards on us at that last camp, and he mapped it out for us.

“Oh, my gosh, all of these teams are really good,” she added. “Just to be in the same group is huge.”

For the 19-year-old Diaz, a sophomore from Burien near Sea-Tac Airport and a product of the state-caliber Kennedy High School program, just being at the Corona training camp during the week leading up to Easter was huge …

… given that she had to be talked into going.

“I heard about it from my friend at Western Washington (Joana Houplin, who plays for the Vikings),” Diaz said. “She was going down and said, 'You should try out – here's the information.' I had to contact the recruiter, and he said, 'Oh yeah, we've been looking at you. You should come.'”

Falcons coach Chuck Sekyra also encouraged Diaz to go, even though camp was during the first week of spring classes.

“You look at her and you see a quality soccer player,” Sekyra said. “Anyone who knows the game of soccer will look at Alexa and go, 'That kid can play.'”

In California, tryouts were taking place for several Philippine squads, ranging from U-14 to the national team.

“At first, I was a little nervous. I didn't know which girls were trying out for which age level,” Diaz said. “They split us up. It was easier to go in there and just play, because I didn't know what level and status everyone was at.”

A defender, Diaz played in the central defense during camp. She doesn't know yet what her role will be when she arrives in the Philippines next month. In addition to the 15 U.S- and Canada-based players, the final Asian Cup group-stage team of 23 will include eight native Filipinas currently living in the islands.

“For whatever reason, Filipinas tend to be midfielders on their teams,” Nierras said via e-mail. “That's why I'm forced to play a 3-6-1 (format). This will work well for Alexa, because she can still be a defender, but can be part of the build-up for our attacking plays.”

Nierras clearly liked what he saw in Corona, and believes he can help Diaz elevate her game even more.

“She's a very physical player, but needs to develop her match composure,” Nierras said. “She is a very good communicator and has good vision for the game. Although international games are totally different compared to college or pro games, I feel I can work with Alexa in developing those skills.”

Sekyra believes Diaz will fit right in wherever the Philippines coaching staff decides to use her.

“One of the things I'm sure they're excited about is she can play anywhere on the field,” Sekyra said. “I think she's a natural possession midfielder, (but) she looks to keep the ball wherever she plays.”

Making the final 23 for the games in Bangladesh will depend not only on Diaz' soccer talent, but on whether all of the documentation is finished and processed in time. If she's not in that 23, her focus will turn to the 2013 Southeast Asian Games (set for December in Burma / Myanmar) and the 2014 ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup.

“Either way, she will be part of the main core of players for the women's national team,” Nierras said.

At times, Diaz still seems to be getting a grasp on the idea that soccer has taken her this far. Last summer, when she and Western pal Houplin (who also made the cut) first talked about it, the notion seemed little far-fetched.

“We were saying, 'We should try to get on the Philippine national team – that would be really cool,'” Diaz said. “But we didn't think anything of it. We were just throwing it out there as an option. Then, we were talking about it (after training camp), and it actually happened.

“I thought maybe in a couple years, I would make it,” Diaz said.

“It was just sooner than I expected it to be.”