By Andy Valencia
The cafes of Vashon certainly provide coffee drinks, but their true value is in the surprises that often accompany your order. At Luna one morning, I was just getting my laptop ready when I heard a young woman in line mentioning that she had returned from playing semi-pro soccer in Europe. I popped up, apologized for being a nosy Loop reporter, gave her a card, and asked if I might interview her?
Meet Zoe McDaniel. She grew up in Seattle, with her and her family spending large chunks of each summer here on Vashon. Her father has always been a big soccer fan, and her mother is a fluent Spanish speaker. Soccer, Spanish, and a generous helping of natural talent – where might it lead?
From her youngest years, athletics – and soccer in particular – have been a passion for Zoe. After playing in the usual youth leagues, she felt ready to take it to the next level, and approached the coach of the Seattle OL Reign soccer team. The cold call led to her visiting their practice for a tryout, and she left the tryout with the club ready to sign her up. She was now playing with people for whom soccer was their intended profession, and her team played across the nation.
All this while still a high school student.
Her parents had always loved Spain, and in parallel with this, they had started looking seriously at moving to Spain as permanent residents. The culture and natural beauty were large considerations, but for Zoe there was an additional benefit: Europeans love soccer. Pro and amateur, men and women. And unlike the United States’ very formal, regimented path to pro sports, in Europe they are much more open to letting someone participate based solely on their talent.
Zoe dusted off her cold-calling superpower and got in touch with the local soccer league in Spain, the Valencia section of the Tercera Federación. Europeans consider the U.S. a fairly dismal place for soccer, but she convinced the coach to let her try out. And, once again, she left the tryout with a place on their team. She was now a member of a European semi-pro soccer team!
Here was soccer at a whole other level. Zoe spoke Spanish, but found – especially in the Valencia region – that they spoke it very rapidly. Communication is critical in soccer, and she was mostly thinking in English, then translating to spoken Spanish. One time, her mind said “Go! Go! Go!” and she shouted “Va! Va! Va!” While a correct translation, in Spanish this implies, “You take it, I’m done.” Not what she intended! But her mistakes were rare, and she caught up quickly.
It all worked out. Zoe’s residency status came through, she showed her team how she could play, and she was on the field for the final five games of the season. The biggest compliment was when she was selected to be a part of the away team. In semi-pro, this meant she was good enough that her team paid for her travel, lodging, and food expenses on the road.
Some of her team members were even making income, but Zoe was thinking ahead to her college plans. She made sure she didn’t take any income, which would jeopardize her ability to play college soccer back in the U.S. The pro-level soccer, the fans in the stands, and her success in a European soccer league were enough for now.
A solid place on a great team. Soccer, Spain, and family – it sounds like a “happily ever after!” So how did I manage to catch Zoe at a Vashon cafe? Although she loves Spain, she decided to return to the U.S. for college. She’s enrolled at Carleton, and – of course – is already listed on Carleton’s soccer team roster. I managed to interview her just days before she headed off to school.
Once again, Zoe’s life is changing. She’s getting a degree in psychology, possibly followed by law, or perhaps social work. She’ll be playing collegiate soccer and visiting her family in Spain when her schedule permits.
The Loop is on Zoe’s email list, and we look forward to hearing from her whenever she takes on her next big life change. Pro soccer? Found a company? Become president of the U.S.? Nothing would suprise us, and we send our best wishes as Zoe heads off to college.