Opportunities to garner international attention do not come around very often for amateur athletes. That is why, just two weeks before finals start, NYU women’s soccer star midfielder Lexi Clarke boarded a plane to Ecuador late Sunday afternoon.
Clarke, just a 21-year-old junior, got a message Wednesday morning saying she was invited to the Ecuadorian women’s national soccer camp, where she will have a chance to compete for one of the 21 coveted spots on their 2015 World Cup roster. The promise of competing over the next few weeks against players with international experience was enough to pique her interest, and certainly too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“Regardless of the outcome, I think this will be an amazing experience,” Clarke said. “Being able to train with the Ecuadorian national team is still surreal to me, and it is definitely an honor. It puts me in a position to experience playing with top-level players which will only be beneficial to my future in soccer.”
This opportunity is about even more than soccer for Clarke. The junior, whose mother was born in Ecuador, will use this opportunity to spend time with family that she does not see in her hometown of Round Hill, Virginia.
“Not only is this an amazing soccer experience, but also a great cultural experience,” Clarke said. “Being able to return to Ecuador means I will get to see family, revisit familiar places and continue to experience first-hand the beauty of the Ecuadorian culture.”
As for her chances to become one of the final 21 who travel to Canada this summer, Clarke remains optimistic and will try to build on the skills that got her to this point.
“I’ve been playing soccer since I was 4 years old,” Clarke said. “My technical skills and physical abilities have developed over the past few years of playing college soccer and I think that is something that sets me apart. I have to focus on the things that are within my control.”
Even if Clarke does make the team, she and her Ecuadorian teammates will be unlikely to escape the Group Stage of the tournament. Ecuador is ranked 49th in the FIFA women’s international rankings, placing them third in their group behind Japan and Switzerland, at third and 18th, respectively. But the slightest proposition of playing in arguably one of the two most famous sporting events in the world is enough to make any athlete, especially a college one, overwhelmed with excitement and nervousness.
“I am definitely feeling a little nervous because I don’t know what to expect,” Clarke said. “At the same time, I have nothing to lose and I know that once I step on the field and start playing those nerves will disappear.”
A version of this article appeared in the April 28 print edition. Email Bobby Wagner at [email protected]