PLAYING FOR COUNTRY: Nimitz Alum Playing For El Salvador Women's National Soccer Team
SOCCER IS LIFE IN EL SALVADOR.
That passion for the game courses through the veins of Reina Cruz. For the first 12 years of her life, the Nimitz alum and now assistant girls soccer coach grew up in El Salvador before moving to the United States.
El Salvador is her home. It is the place that molded her love of the beautiful game.
“Soccer is everything down there,” Cruz said. “It is the most played sport. It is what people live for. The fans, parents, moms, dads, kids, it’s what everyone wishes for to be a part of the team. To play soccer. Soccer is everything to them.”
Cruz’s passion for soccer carried over to the high school level where she played at Nimitz High School. Her senior season was the first for current head coach D’Andre Wilson.
“The main thing that stood out about her was her work ethic,” Wilson said. “How hard she worked, how hard she played and how bad she really wanted it. It was contagious. It carried over to the coaches and to the players.”
That work ethic extended into her collegiate playing career at Prairie View A&M and then into the semi-professional level with the Houston Aces.
But her biggest accomplishment was yet to come.
In September, Cruz traveled to El Salvador to participate in a tryout for the women’s national soccer team that in just a few months would be vying for a spot in the 2023 FIFA World Cup set to be played in Australia and New Zealand.
On September 21, the El Salvador native got the call she had waited for her entire life.
“It was an indescribable feeling,” Cruz said about being selected to the team. “More than anything, it felt like finally I have a higher purpose than just myself. I can use my skill and talent to serve another nation.”
Cruz returned to El Salvador in November to play in a training match against Honduras. In February, the matches became real.
In the Concacaf Qualifers, Cruz and the El Salvador National team defeated Belize 6-0 on February 16 and then Aruba 7-1 on February 19 to move to 2-0 in Group D play tying Panama for the top spot, including goals scored.
“It’s a very unique experience,” Cruz said about playing in the qualifying matches. “It’s a lot different than anything I ever experienced. I played DI soccer for Prairie View A&M and the experience is different from playing for a national team and then at the college level, I can’t compare them. First from how the fans see you, how the country receives you, the preparation for the game.
“Everything is to the highest. Speed, strength, concentration.” But the work is not finished yet.
Cruz will travel again at the beginning of April for El Salvador’s next two qualifying matches against Barbados on April 8 and Panama on April 12 – which could decide their fate.
If everything goes well, the centerback, who started against both Aruba and Belize, will next be stepping onto a field in a World Cup match.
“It would be a dream come true,” Cruz said. “Not only because I got to take my soccer career to the highest possible level that I could but also to be able to help the country and serve them. At the end of the day, it is not about me. It’s about them and what I can do for them.”
On the El Salvador National Team, Cruz is not alone in representing Houston.
Former Aldine Davis standout Juana Plata and Alief Elsik product Stephanie Garcia also suit up for the team.
“It is awesome to see familiar faces that I not only know but played with in college or semi-pro and high school,” Cruz said.
As Cruz returns on campus at Nimitz high school to help her former soccer team prepare for their next match, she shares her worldly travels with the girls.
“I show them pictures, so that they can see that dreams come true,” Cruz said. “If you really work for it and really want it … the next one could be you. You could be the next person that will represent Aldine ISD at the highest level of your sport and your career.”
Having a person like Cruz, who is currently trying to qualify for the World Cup and has played collegiately, around the program is perfect for Wilson.
Cruz is the role model every coach dreams of.
“It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter where you are, it could be done if you put in the hard work, your determined, get around the right people and you do the right things that it can happen,” Wilson said. “That’s the big reason I wanted her to come out and train the girls. She walked the same hallways they do, she played for the same coaches they did, and she wears the same colors we do. She’s Nimitz.”
Cruz added: “It has been the best, the best time of my life. I can’t believe that I was just a student a few years ago and a player for them, now I get to come back. I get to help the girls and see what they’ve done. And more than anything, I like to be a part of the history as well, not just as a student but as a coach myself.”