The Leader From The Back

M. Terry / SFVS

You’re Going Nowhere — Sophomore goalie Amanda Delgado makes another of her 27 saves this season for the Cal State Northridge Matadors.

Cal State University Northridge (CSUN) sophomore Amanda Delgado has been playing soccer for a long time — more than half of her life — and most of that playing time has been as the goalie. As you might imagine, she’s become rather good at it. She’d have to be, to evolve into an NCAA Division I player.

Being the only player on your team who can use their hands on the field during a game carries its own unique brand of responsibility. Oh, there are other critical aspects as well, like quickness, strength, vision, anticipation, the courage to stop a kicked ball that can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour or more. But there is one important element the casual fan might not consider.  

“Leadership,” said Delgado, 19. “Being able to talk to your team and get them organized. If the ball is on the left side of the field, I need to be able to organize people on the right side if the ball gets crossed. The people in the middle [also] need to be organized.”

CSUN women’s Coach Keith West backs Delgado’s assessment.

“I think with every great team, the leadership has to start with the goalie,” West said. “From the back they have to be able to direct and command and organize the team in front of them. Great keepers should not have to make more than 2-3 saves a game. And great keepers know how to prevent goals from happening long before [the ball] gets to them.”

At 5-7, Delgado is standing tall for the Matadors, who — at 6-1-3 — have their best winning percentage after 10 games (.750) since  they started the 2005 season 9-1. They will take a seven-game unbeaten streak into their nonconference match against Pepperdine tonight, Sept. 26, at CSUN. 

Delgado, as the lead goalie, has played in seven games, with a 3-1-3 record, three shutouts and 27 saves. She’s quick to point out that CSUN doesn’t lose a step when backup goalie Taylor Thames is minding the net; Thames is 3-0-0 and has yet to give up a goal this season.

“The competition (between them) is great. It definitely helps in practice; we all want to play and we push each other. Off the field, me and Taylor are such good friends. I know if I get hurt it’s not even a problem, that Taylor will step up in there and do her best,” Delgado said.

Originally from Downey, Delgado is one of two daughters born to Alfred and Dora Soto-Delgado. Both parents are college graduates — Alfred, from Cal State LA,  and Dora, from the University of La Verne — and stressed the importance of education and accountability to Amanda and her sister Miranda as they grew up.

Accountability, as in no excuses. So when Delgado and the Matadors were rocked for four goals by Texas A&M on Aug. 30 in their only loss this season, Delgado put the defeat on her shoulders.

“I can’t say for a fact I was nervous (against Texas A&M). But looking back on it I probably was,” she said. “I knew I could either be really sad about the fact they scored on me, or come out the next game and kick some butt.”

She’s given up only two goals since.

But a bad game is nothing compared to the kind of adversity Delgado has already overcome. 

You don’t think of devastating injuries like anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears happening to athletes when they are young. But Delgado has endured two of them, one in each knee. The first time was the left knee when she was 14, a freshman, and playing her second game for Bishop Amat High School in La Puente. That pretty much ended playing for her high school; Delgado instead decided to concentrate on playing club soccer with the traveling team Legends FC.

Delgado rehabilitated her injury, and returned to premier form. By the time she was a sophomore, Delgado was popping up on the radars of Division I and II colleges. Northridge was not initially in the mix — West wasn’t sure he could compete with the attention other schools were giving Delgado — but eventually joined the pursuit and wound up with Delgado’s verbal commitment.

“I saw a kid that had ability that was unbelievable,” West said. “She was one of the best high school keepers as a 10th grader.”

Then disaster struck again. When she was 17, Delgado tore the ACL in her right knee. When she got a call from West checking on her, she was expecting him to say the Matadors would move on. Instead, he still wanted her to come if she was willing to through another recovery and rehabilitation.

“That was big,” Delgado said.

It also got her thinking.

With club soccer, “I never wanted to work hard [on conditioning] because I was doing good on the field already,” Delgado said. “Goalies didn’t get that many shots at them, especially if you were on a good team. It wasn’t a big aspect of what you did in club soccer. It was games, and games only. 

“In college soccer, and how I look at it now, the games are just what everybody sees. What nobody sees is you training with your team every day; going to work with weights at seven in the morning, doing conditioning sessions — even as a goalie. I realized…you have to be physically fit to be a goalie. I’m not getting shots at me every two seconds. But I have to be able stand for at least 90 minutes and still react and mentally stay there, so when the shot does come I’m ready to react.”

That’s why, the sociology major said, she lost 30 pounds between her freshman and sophomore seasons.

“I think doing well in school, and just being a leader in all aspects of my life, will earn me respect from my teammates. So when it does come time for them to listen to me on the field, they will have enough respect to do that.”

Delgado takes great pride in her Mexican heritage, and does not take lightly being considered an elite college player. She would like to see more players who look like her.

“I represent CSUN women's soccer and soccer in general,” Delgado said. “At the pro level you don’t see a lot of Hispanic women. On the US national team there’s not one representation of a Hispanic woman. I think that’s a big problem in US women’s soccer.

“I’m glad I can represent the Hispanic culture at the collegiate level. I hope there are other people, and there are; a lot of my friends play at D-I schools. I hope I and them can go on to higher levels in soccer and represent.”

Big West Conference play begins on Oct. 3, against host Hawaii. Because of their youth — only two seniors — not much was expected from the Matadors this season. But the team's hot start is challenging that thinking. And Delgado and her teammates are putting no limits on themselves or their own expectations

“I have so much faith in this team,” she said. “A lot of it builds off of not only our actual ‘game’ itself and the skills we show but off our energy itself, the connection and bond we have with each other off the field. The positivity we have with each other off the field.

“A lot of the people who make an impact on our team are freshmen. We rely on them so much; we don’t want to treat them as less than us or people who pick up the balls because they are freshmen. They make an impact and we need them every step of the way. We love the positivity they bring to our team.”

Spoken like a leader.

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