By Hannah Duffey, Special to Florida Sports Wire
ST. AUGUSTINE – The love for soccer started at age five when Andrea Fernandez was dabbling around with different sports, trying to find one that stuck with her.
“Soccer in Spain is much more technical and tactical, while in these leagues, the physical is much more predominant,” she said. “The competitiveness in Spain is higher because women’s soccer is becoming professional at various levels.”
It was not until 1971 that it became legal for women to play soccer in Spain and another nine years before the first women’s professional team to start.
Spain ranks among the top European nations in the women’s game. There are almost 100,000 women and girls registered as players by the RFEF, a 55 percent rise since 2014, according to La Liga Feminina in Euro News.Fifty-two years ago seems like another lifetime, but that still has a lasting impact on women playing soccer currently, including Fernandez.
For Fernandez, when she started playing soccer, she played on a male team until she was able to join a women’s league.
“When I first started playing soccer, it looked weird for a girl to play, and they (her parents) never denied me the chance to play the sport I loved,” she said.
The issue of inequality for women in sports is not an issue that starts when a lady becomes well-known on a bigger platform, this is a problem for women who play sports at such a young age and have to learn to navigate them and overcome them.
Even with so many unknowns, Fernandez continued to play the sport that she loved, knowing a time would come when she would be able to play for a female team and make a name for herself
“For me, soccer means my life. Soccer is everything to me. It is my state of mind. As I said before, since I have grown up with a ball at my feet, I do not know what life would be without a ball around me,” she said. “Thanks to soccer, I have met people and places that I will never forget and values that I will never lose.”
She has taken those talents from several teams in Spain to America, playing for Flagler College, and without a doubt, she has made a name for herself.
Coming to America to play soccer seemed like a big dream for Fernandez. With so many unknowns, like leaving her family, the ones who have supported her since day one.
After being contacted by Flagler head women’s soccer coach Ashley Martin, and him conveying his love for soccer, it did not take much convincing before Fernandez said yes.
“I am very grateful to Coach Ash and Coach Tim (Stolteneberg) for giving me the opportunity to come here and trusting me from the beginning,” Fernandez said. “I am glad that they looked at my soccer abilities and not my English proficiency.”
“Andrea is one of the most determined players I’ve ever worked with,” said Martin. “She loves the game and thinks about very little else. She has proven to be a wonderful leader who takes enormous pleasure from the success of her teammates, and always puts the team first.”
Like anyone, the language barrier is a major concern for people who come to the States to play any sport, but the diversity within Flagler’s soccer team made Fernandez feel welcome and like she had a home away from home.
“The fact that the staff and some players spoke Spanish helped me to picture myself in my new home,” she said.
From the moment Andrea stepped foot on the field, she has been a powerhouse that cannot be stopped.
During her first season, she scored 17 goals and 15 assists and was then named Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year. Last year, she finished with 20 goals and added eight assists and again earned PBC Player of the Year honors. Fernandez was also selected as a third-team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches.
Fast forward to her junior season, the streak continues. She has not only been named PBC Player of the Week twice, but she has broken the school record after scoring her 45th career goal against Georgia College & State University on Sept. 30. In the next match against Barry University, she scored a goal 46 seconds into the match to break the school’s all-time points record. She has 121 career points.
“Andrea has been a part of two very successful seasons so far in her collegiate career,” said Martin, “but she came to Flagler to win the ultimate prize of an NCAA National Championship, so hopefully her story has a lot left yet to be written.”
“To be honest, I never imagined some of the achievements I have earned, but without a doubt, the best achievements I have are the ones we have made as a team,” Fernandez said.
What Fernandez is doing on the level here at Flagler College is what female players are doing on a larger scale like her favorite player, Aitana Bonmbatí who is a professional Spanish soccer player for Barcelona and Spain’s women’s national team.
Much like Fernandez, Bonmbatí saw the inequalities for women playing soccer at the professional level, however, kept working at her craft and made it to that level of success and is breaking barriers for the women coming up behind her.
Although she has been so successful on her own, she will always credit her teammates, because without them, she would not be where she is today.
“The role that my teammates have played and continue to play is essential because without them, I could not have done it,” she said. “What I like most about this sport is that it is collective, meaning there are no individualities; when someone´s energy goes down, the rest of the team is there to lift up that person. I am lucky to be part of a great team with great people, and I will always remember them.”