March 6, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Lia Foster was born in Canada and grew up there. She attends college in the United States.
Her passport to international soccer, however, came on another continent, in another hemisphere.
Foster, a Marshall sophomore defender, returned to school last month after a successful tryout for Colombia’s Under-20 National Team. She played in the 10-team South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) qualifier for the U20 World Cup scheduled this summer in Canada.
“I loved it, and it was great,” said Foster, taking a break from her Herd team’s winter conditioning program Wednesday. “It was a really good cultural experience for me.”
Her team advanced in pool play to the four-team, round-robin finals, but fell one win short of the World Cup. Foster said she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. She wasn’t even sure she could make the Colombian team.
Foster, 19, was eligible because her mother, Elizabeth, in a native of Colombia who moved to Canada when she was 16. Foster’s father, Kim, is a Canada native. Their daughter came to Marshall from Keswick, an Ontario city north of Toronto.
“One of my uncles (Rodrigo Mafla, Elizabeth’s brother) knew the Colombian coach,” Foster said. “He told him he had a niece who lives in Canada and plays college soccer in the United States, and she’d like to have the opportunity to come down and play.”
Marshall coach Kevin Long said Foster told him last summer about the potential for a tryout in Colombia.
“It was a great opportunity for Lia,” said Long, who’s headed toward his seventh season as the Herd coach. “The process there, there were a lot of dates she could attend camp, and we looked at schedule.
“We have the perspective where any international experience a student-athlete of ours can get, it’s only going to make us stronger down the road. So, even if we had to sacrifice a few games without her last season, we would open the door to do that. In that process, she chose to go away after the season.”
That was a good thing for the Herd.
Foster, who started all 20 games in 2013, scored her first and only collegiate goal on a direct kick in a 1-0, regular season-ending win at FIU. If Marshall had lost that game, the Herd would have missed the Conference USA Tournament, in which Long’s team advanced to the quarterfinals with a first-round victory.
The MU sophomore left for Cali, Colombia, and almost two weeks of strength and conditioning training right after the end of the first semester.
“I was there all though Christmas, training once a day,” said Foster, who has started 29 of her 34 games in an MU uniform. “They call you during the break about making the team. I went home to Canada for six days and got the email that they wanted me back for camp in Bogota.
“I went and we trained for a week or so, and I made the final cut, and on Jan. 10 we left for the tournament that started the 13th in (Montevideo) Uruguay.”
After advancing through the preliminary round, Foster’s team went to the finals round-robin with Brazil – “an amazing team, powerful,” she said – Bolivia and Paraguay. Colombia lost to Brazil, and also to Paraguay, 1-0 -- the decision that kept Foster from a chance to return to her homeland for the U20 World Cup.
Foster played 65 minutes in Colombia’s final game against Bolivia, then returned to Huntington late – Feb. 1 -- for the spring semester. A dietetics major with a 3.39 GPA, Foster had some catching up to do academically.
“I think mentally, going there helped me a lot,” Foster said when asked about how her international experience will aid her game with the Herd. “I never assumed I’d get a lot of playing time, being a new player, and the coach had players on the National Team from his club team.
“He only saw me for three weeks and I didn’t get in until that last game, so it challenged me to stay positive. Even though I wasn’t a contributing factor on the field as much as I might have liked, I tried to pump up my teammates, encourage them as best I could.
“Here in school, Jillian (Boys, the women’s soccer academic advisor), she helped me so much, rearranged my schedule so I’d have more online classes, helped me stay on top of everything, kept my instructors informed. I was so worried about that part of it, but I’m so happy I’m caught up.”
One of Foster’s worries was a language barrier. Support was not a problem. She said every day at practice, many members of her mother’s large family arrived to sit in the bleachers and cheer for her.
“I felt like I got closer to that side of my family, which I’ve never gotten to see that much,” said Foster, who said she had been to Colombia three times previously, all on Christmas holiday trips with her parents. “Overall, the Spanish language, I knew like none at all. I used to speak some with my mom. And when we went for those Christmas trips, my mom could translate for me, and I had a couple of cousins who knew English.
“My mom was so excited about me going. She thought it was great and she said, ‘It’s an opportunity, and whether it works out or not, this will be amazing for you, to be part of that culture. I feel like I really bonded with my mom even more because of this experience.
“My whole family, they were so proud. I have about 10 uncles there, and their kids. It’s a very big family. I loved it, it was a great experience. The girls (on the team) were great. They welcomed me. I was so nervous they were going to treat me like an outsider because I was from another place, but they were wonderful.”
Foster’s teammates included several other U.S. college players. The Herd defender will turn age 20 in early June, so that ends her U20 play, but she has inquired about continuing with the Colombia National Team program.
“Lia’s an important player for us, and she’s one of our overachievers on and off the field,” Long said. She missed some school, but she’s been such a great student and she made up the class work, and we’re excited about her having the opportunity to go to Colombia.
“We had (former MU forward) Erika Duncan on national side (Scotland), and other players in the national picture before, but it’s the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve had a player called in to one of the national teams.
“And we’re continuing to look at those kinds of players. It says something about our recruiting, that we’re looking at a high-level player here, and that’s exciting. It says we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and Lia is playing well and she’s doing what she’s supposed to be doing.
“We were all thrilled for her.”