Many players in the current U-20 Women’s National Team pool have been getting National Team call-ups for years. Viviana Villacorta is not one of those players.
The defensive midfielder out of Torrance, California, got her first call-up to a Youth National Team camp about 15 months ago. Since then, through dedication, astute self-awareness and a humble appreciation for the opportunities afforded her, she has become a key player for the U.S. U-20 WNT.
While “playing up” a year for four consecutive age groups for Southern California powerhouse and current U.S. Soccer Development Academy club Real SoCal, Villacorta dreamed of a WNT call-up. When it finally came, she was ready. Sort of.
“I was very nervous,” said Villacorta of her first WNT experience at an Under-18 training camp in September of 2016. “I’d always wanted to be on the National Team. During youth club, people would tell me I should get a shot with the National Team, so that’s all I ever wanted, a shot. When I actually got the e-mail inviting me, it was sort of surreal. Then the nerves came on big time because I wanted to prove myself. At the first practice, I just told myself, I’ve been practicing all these years, I just need to show them what I could do.”
Villacorta played 76 minutes against Finland, scoring a goal and earning an assist in the 10-1 USA win.
Her performance was good enough that she was named to the roster for a trip to Northern Ireland in October where she made her international debut. She played 11 minutes off the bench in the first game in a 2-1 loss to England, got 25 minutes in the second in a 3-1 win against France, and then got her first start against Northern Ireland in a 3-0 win. She played the full 90 minutes and picked up the assist on the third goal.
Those were the first games she’d ever played in a real soccer stadium.
“I was definitely excited and nervous for my first start,” she said. “We had scouting reports, and knew how they played so I felt prepared. When I stepped onto the field, I got my first touch on the ball, and I settled down. I see myself as a soft-spoken person, but when I step on the field I take on a different personality. I’m more confident, I’m more vocal, I have more fire. I’m a different person.”
At that tournament, current U.S. U-20 WNT head coach Jitka Klimkova got her first look at Villacorta in international matches and she liked what she saw. What Klimkova has liked even more, though, is Villacorta understanding that if you’re standing still as a player, you’re falling behind.
“She made huge improvements and she’s a very coachable player,” said Klimkova, who has given her nine U-20 caps so far. “She’s hungry for information and always doing her homework. She’s also a great human being which has a big impact on the team. She’s very humble, a very positive person, and always looking for ways to help the team.”
Those qualities have helped her excel at holding midfield where she has developed a keen understanding of defensive positioning, shown the ability to win tackles and has been ultra-conscientious about playing her roll. With the ball at her feet, the smooth and skillful Villacorta has shown the ability to play passes quickly, simply, and to the right spaces to help build an attack or unbalance a defense.
Villacorta (left) is enjoying every bit of her U-20 WNT experience.
“She’s a very technical and creative player,” said Klimkova. “She sees the game very well, likes to keep the ball moving and is possession-oriented. She’s also really improved a lot over the past year. When she came to our program, she was very good with the short passes, but her vision is getting bigger and bigger and she’s aware what is going on further away from her. She can hit those long-rage passes. I’ll also give her credit in that she’s gotten stronger, which was a point of emphasis with her. She’s more physical and aggressive now.”
Villacorta burst onto the college scene in 2017 as one of the top freshman in the country, playing in all 25 matches with 14 starts, but really coming on strong towards the end of the season. She played almost every minute in the Bruins run to the NCAA Championship Game where UCLA fell just short to Pac-12 rival Stanford. Still, the experience helped improve her confidence heading into this important stretch for the U-20 WNT.
After sitting out the first match of the 2017 Women’s Nike Friendlies against England to rest after a busy weekend a few days before at the NCAA College Cup, she got the start and played 76 minutes against Finland on Dec. 9. In that match, she scored her first international goal in the 10-1 win.
“Being on a National Team, I definitely have to consistently earn a spot,” said Villacorta, whose mother was born in El Salvador and whose father was born in Peru. “It’s always very humbling to be called here because I know a lot of girls don’t get this opportunity. Some of my teammates have been called into camps since they were 14, and a bunch of them have already played in a World Cup, so playing with them makes me a better player. They are so high caliber. “
That’s why Villacorta will keep working. And why she will keep getting goosebumps when that email pops into her inbox inviting her into a National Team event.
“When I’m not in camp, I have to work on the little details and other things to set me apart so I can keep getting called,” she said. “Whenever I get the email, I get really excited. Other girls may be used to it, but I love it every time.”