Catalina Perez spent all of last season recovering from surgery on a torn ACL in her left knee, but she had plenty of motivation to get back on the field.
The redshirt sophomore goalkeeper needed to be ready by February, when preparation camps would begin for the Colombian women’s national soccer team. The Women’s World Cup started in June, and Perez intended to be on the final roster.
After an intense four months of training, Perez made the team as one of three goalkeepers.
“It was a long and stressful process. Thus, when the final list was announced and I was on it, it was very rewarding,” Perez stated in an email Friday night.
Colombia did not have a starting goalkeeper in place entering the tournament, giving Perez a chance to play on the sport’s biggest stage. After sitting out the first three games for Colombia in the group stage, Perez started in the round of 16 match against the eventual champion, the United States team.
“My mindset going into the game was that it was going to be a very difficult game, but that the U.S. players are people just like on my team,” Perez said. “I needed to believe in my teammates and myself and go for the win. You will not regret going for the win, but you will always regret going for a loss.”
Perez blocked strong American plays in the first half, making a diving save to her left in the fourth minute on a shot by Tobin Heath, and later tipping an Alex Morgan header over the net in the 28th minute.
That dreamlike first half made the nightmarish second half all the more stunning. Perez was handed a red card in the 47th minute and was subsequently ejected after tripping Morgan just inside the penalty box. Two second-half goals by the U.S. team made it official: Perez’s World Cup was over.
“When I saw the red card, I was in disbelief,” Perez stated in the email. “I had never been given a red card in a real game. I did not know what it meant or what I had to do at the time. It felt like my world stopped for a minute.”
Although the game did not go as she had planned, Perez still holds fond memories of the moments before kickoff.
“My favorite moment of the tournament was singing the Colombian anthem in the game versus the USA,” Perez said. “Seeing my family in the stands and sharing that priceless moment with my teammates and the people who have supported me … I had dreamed and envisioned that moment so many times, but that moment surpassed all of my dreams and expectations.”
Despite tearing her ACL as a teenager and receiving a red card in the biggest game of her life, Perez perseveres. The Hurricanes should feel confident with this player protecting the net; Perez can block any challenge that comes her way.