IND senior soccer standout Emma Bocanegra’s game grows in South America

by Nelson Coffin

Emma Bocanegra’s soccer horizons are heading due south — all the way to South America, to play for the Peruvian national women’s soccer team.

That would be quite an accomplishment for anyone, much less a senior at the Institute of Notre Dame who plays the sport year round for the Penguins’ outdoor and indoor teams in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland and for the highly regarded Premier club team.

Her dad, Carlos, who hails from a small town north of Lima, coaches both IND soccer squads while Notre Dame Prep varsity coach Val Teixeira guides a Premier team that has won a national championship with Bocanegra playing center midfield.

Teixeira said that he has coached the John Hopkins commit since she was 12.

“She’s a very dedicated and talented player,” he said. “Making the Peruvian team was just a matter of her getting an opportunity.”

The idea of playing for her dad’s native country was originally brought up in an off-handed matter by him until Carlos made some serious inquiries about Emma actually trying out for Peru’s national U-17 side.

To that end, Carlos, contacted the Peruvian Football Federation on a whim and received a very quick and positive reply.

“I said, ‘Hey, what do you think,?’” he said. “They got back to us very fast.”

Her first “tryout” really wasn’t one at all, at least in person.

With her Baltimore hometown roots accentuated by the Mr. Boh sign in the background, IND’s Emma Bocanerga is spreading her international wings by playing for her father’s native Peru.

Instead, Carlos put together a video of Emma’s highlights when she was playing for the Severna Park Lasers U-17 squad as a 15-year-old standout and sent it to PFF officials.

It worked.

By the time, she did tryout in person for the team, PFF coaches were familiar with her ability on the pitch.

As more of a facilitator and a feeder rather than a big-time scorer, the technical aspect of Emma’s game is what makes her such an asset.

“She’s a quick thinker,” said Carlos, noting that his daughter had 11 goals and nine assists as a junior for the IND outdoor team. “If she sees that a teammates is in scoring position, she’ll find her. She’s a distributor.”

Moreover, a couple of scouting reports on may have caught PFF coaches’ attention by the way Emma was described in a “Players That Impressed” segment for players from across the U.S.

One read that “Emma’s physical midfield play and nonstop hustle controlled the midfield for the Severna Park Lasers during their championship run at the APC Winter Showcase. Emma was relentless going up and down the pitch, helping control action on both ends of the field. Her quick moves and physical play help the Lasers dominate possession. Her superb conditioning kept her effective throughout the three tournament games, all played in a 24-hour window in difficult weather conditions.”

Proving those words to be prophetic, She has earned spots on Peruvian national teams ever since, playing two years for the U-17 team in World Cup qualifying tournaments and one with the U-20 squad.

Emma said that she also played for the Peru U-20s in an international friendly tour in Florida playing against Division I teams from Jacksonville University, Stetson and Florida State.

She has also been invited back to earn a spot on this year’s U-20 roster at tryouts in Lima Feb. 11-17.

Emma said that she has had to make some serious adjustments in order to meld her talent with that of her more free-flowing teammates.

“The quality of play is really at a high level,” she said. “South American teams play a very different style than U.S. teams, which have a more direct style. I could never play center-mid for Peru. They use an extra component of being able to carry the ball. A center-mid’s job there is to hold the ball and take opponents on. Their game is a little prettier — the way the game should be played.”

The step up to U-20 was an eye-opener.

“I played every minute of every game,” she said about her first year of competition at that level. “And everyone is so much bigger and stronger.”

In addition to improving her physical skills, there are language barriers to hurdle for a player for whom English — she was born here — is a her native tongue.

“The girls on the team kind of hesitated early because I don’t look as Peruvian as them and my Spanish is not perfect,” she said. “My teammates joke about some of my pronunciations and they tease me by calling me a ‘gringa.’ But now we’re just like a family with a common goal.”

She said that she has improved by downloading Spanish-language apps and conversing with her father more often in Spanish.

A school community service trip to a part of the Dominican Republic last April where no one spoke English has also helped her Spanish.

On the pitch, though, most of what doesn’t come naturally to her is earned through sheer determination.

“She’s a playmaker,” Teixeira said. “And she has great vision. She’s a great kid who leads by example on and off the field.”

Pictured above: IND senior Emma Bocanegra with her dad and high school coach, Carlos, at Clarence “Du” Burns Arena in Canton after the Penguins handed Roland Park Country School its first IAAM B Conference loss Jan. 9. Emma assisted on the first goal against the Reds and scored the final goal in a 3-2 victory. Carlos coaches both the outdoor and indoor teams at IND and was instrumental in helping Emma toward earning roster berths on three national teams in his native Peru.