Sometimes life is a straight line road, going from destination to carefully charted destination. Most often however, it’s little twists and turns that lead a person to find themselves in places they never thought they’d wind up.
When Lucy Lara graduated from Arizona State in 2016, Liga MX Femenil didn’t exist. Four years later, she’s a starter for Santos Laguna, scoring her first goal for the club in Week 12 against Querétaro. It’s been a long road, but ultimately it’s been a journey worth taking.
“When I was finishing up college,” Lara said, “I actually had my coaches come up to me and told me I could potentially go play in Spain, (and) they wanted me to go tryout and Spain. And I always said that I needed to support my family. And so I couldn’t do that playing soccer. And so I quit my dream of like playing soccer in a World Cup on a professional team, and went straight to working.”
Family has always been paramount to Lara. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico, and it wasn’t easy for her growing up. “When I get out of school I am going to settle down and help them out because my priority is to have them not work anymore,” Lara told the State Free Press in an interview in 2016. So after graduating with her Masters Degree in Sports Business and Law, Lara did just that.
But dreams don’t die. And sometimes the end of something forces you to re-think the road that you’re on.
“There wasn’t a day that went by that no one, not one person asked me, ‘Why didn’t you try it? Why didn’t you just go try it for a year or whatever?’ And so as a year went by, two years went by, I actually had a really bad breakup with my ex. And it kind of like drove me back into soccer.”
Lara was depressed but reached out to a friend that was an agent, telling them ”I want to play soccer again. I want to get back to me, I want to like focus on me and what I love to do, I want to go for my dream, go for my goals, because I never accomplished them.” Her agent knew Leo Cuéllar, who had coached Lara in various Mexico National Team camps starting when she was 15. Cuéllar agreed to give her a tryout with Club América in Mexico City.
“It literally took like a month for me to say, I want to play soccer again to (when it was) ‘okay Lucy you have to go travel to Mexico City and live out there and do trials.’ Everything happened so fast, but it was like the best. The best thing that could have happened to me was that breakup, because it led me back, honestly. It led me to soccer, and I’ve met amazing people I’ve experienced things I never thought I would experience. Honestly, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
She wound up staying with América through the end of the season, but didn’t wind up signing with them. “América didn’t work out (and) I came back to the States.” Lara was determined to succeed however, getting tryouts with León and Monarcas Morelia. “I went to León first and I was there for a week, and they wanted me to stay for another week. But I chose not to because that would have interfered with my tryout with Morelia.”
“There’s something in me (that) was like, ‘no, go try out for Morelia.’” The tryout went well, and she signed with Monarcas before the start of the 2020 Clausura. “I was there for a week and then they offered me a contract.”
Lara enjoyed her time in Morelia. “The girls were nice. The coaches were amazing. The club was amazing. They helped me find a place to live, (and) I adapted super quick to the environment, to the people, (and) to the culture. It was amazing because it wasn’t so big like Mexico City, (where) I felt overwhelmed. It’s big, but it’s still small enough to where I could get around and not get lost.”
She also wound up changing positions. While in college she was a central midfielder or defensive midfielder, in Mexico she’s been more on the back line, playing full back and center back. At 5’ 5”, she says she wasn’t one of the bigger girls physically in the United States and because of her technical abilities she played at center mid. In Mexico, however she is one of the taller players. It also helps that she’s naturally left-footed. “And so I’m a lefty, and automatically teams want to put you as a left mid or left back because that’s where there’s not natural lefties on that side.” So at Morelia she switched to left back, with her thinking being “I’m always one of those girls that’s like, I’m going to play wherever they put me that way I can just show my talent and then they’re going to see that my skills are going to be as a center mid.”
But in one preseason game one of the regular center backs got hurt and she was pressed into service, albeit very reluctantly. “It was against León in León. And they were doing the lineup and they literally just said ‘Lucy center back. Left center back.’ I was like ‘Bruh I’ve never played center back.’ “ But I’ve watched a lot of soccer I’ve coached before and so I was I was a holding mid once. So I was like this, this can’t be that hard. And so I played and I, I didn’t do bad, like I did pretty well. And the coach was like, and you didn’t want to play center back. And so then I just like, I don’t know, I guess I’ve just accepted that I’m just happy to play and wherever I get the chance to play “
“I’m just grateful for the experience,” she said, adding that she was also “grateful for the minutes, and honestly grateful that they had enough confidence in me and my skills that they knew I’m not a center back but they knew (I was) smart. And I have experienced enough to play it. So it’s it’s honestly rewarding to play it because I feel so grateful to be here and be on the field.”
But the road would have a few more unexpected twists and turns on it. Morelia’s season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and on top of that Morelia’s time as a Liga MX city was coming to an end.
Lara was injured three days before everything shut down in a match against Querétaro. She got surgery on her knee and was planning on staying with Morelia, but the club kept the players in the dark about a rumored move to Mazatlán. “They were always like, ‘Oh, we don’t know if we’re moving. We don’t know if we’re moving.’ So they left us like that for a month, month and a half.”
“June comes,” she continues, “and like a week before they wanted us to report to wherever, if it was Morelia or Mazatlán, they were like, ‘We’re actually moving. Do you guys want to come? Yes or no.’ And they called up the girls that they wanted to actually move over.”
Lara wasn’t interested in a move to Mazatlán though. She had been in contact with Santos, and she was honest with them about her situation with her knee as well as not wanting to go to Mazatlán. “I was doing at home therapy. It’s not the same as like getting checked by like a physician. And so I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on with my knee.’ And they were like, ‘No, come, we’ll check you out, we’ll scope you out. Just show us that you can play.’ And so I came out (to Torreón). They helped me recover back for my knee. If it wasn’t for them I don’t think I’d be playing, to be honest. Because I was like stuck with my knee. And so they helped me get back on the field.”
But there was the exploding situation with the novel coronavirus that made this move even stranger as well as dangerous. Her parents were worried she’d catch the virus because she had to travel from Morelia to Torreón, but Santos took care of everything for her. “Santos guided me step by step. They were like, ‘Look, you have to have this, this and this before you come. When you get here, you’re going to quarantine. We’re gonna make you do the test.’ It was so professional and it just made me feel like I was in good hands. Like I was safe. So since day one, they helped me adapt.”
Her new teammates-slash-roommates were helpful as well. ”They like told me, ‘You know what? One person’s going to go to the store to get groceries, and then we’re going to take turns.’ And everyone was just so sanitary. It was honestly like a breath of fresh air, because I didn’t know what I was coming into with the whole virus (situation). But honestly, Santos was super professional. The girls were super professional, and so friendly. And so it was just so easy to adapt to the new culture and the new life here.”
It’s been a good move too. “I just want to say that they are so professional here” at Santos. “They have the amazing facilities. If you guys have never been, please come. Obviously when everything comes back to normality, but like the fields are beautiful. The facilities are beautiful. Everyone’s so professional, everyone’s so friendly.”
“I honestly think they have the best doctors here like the knee like my knee was just literally awful when I got here and because of them like I’m playing again. So as a club, they’re super professional, they make you feel at home. It literally is Santos family, like they are a family everyone says hi to everyone. Everyone’s so nice to everyone. Everyone knows everyone’s name. You feel like you’re literally at home.”
She’s forever grateful too to the fans of the league, her team, and of her personally. ”Thank you for the support. It’s amazing. I have people reaching out from Colombia to the States to Mexico. Sometimes I’ll even like look at my like my requests and like say like thank you for the support. And I just want to say (that) I’m so grateful to play here, and the League and the experience has been amazing. Like it’s a once in a lifetime thing.”
The road has been a winding one, sometimes full of pain and difficult times. But it’s taken her to a place that might have been hard to imagine when she was at her lowest all of those years ago. “I would honestly genuinely tell any girl that’s wanting to play pro to try it. To try it, and it’s going to be the best experience of your life. Whether it’s in Mexico, the States, I don’t know, Norway, Spain... you worked so hard for so many years to play amateur soccer, club soccer, college soccer. Just go and experience life, because you’re going to regret it like I did. And you’re always going to be drawn back to the thing you loved as a kid, which is the game.”