On July 23, the Dominican Republic U-20 women’s national team stunned the favored U-20 Puerto Rican national team 1-0 on a scrappy goal in front of a raucous home crowd at the Estadio Panamericano in San Cristóbal. The victory meant that the Dominican team won its group and advanced into the finals of the CRU (Caribbean Football Union) championships to face St. Kitts and Nevis in November with the hopes of qualifying for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
Despite being on the losing side that day in San Cristóbal, Sharon senior midfielder Ally Filipkowski focused only on the positives of her first foray into international soccer, which is a level that few Hockomock League players have ever reached.
“It was the best experience of my entire life,” Filipkowski said during an interview in the first week of the new high school season. “I’ve had so many cool experiences, especially in soccer, but this tops them all.
“This experience…it brought me closer to an island I don’t live on, it made my game so much better, and I really got to play at the international level and see how other countries play the game and how other girls work together.”
Playing for Puerto Rico also meant fulfilling a lifelong dream of representing the home of her mother, who was born on the island and lived there until attending college in the states.
“I always talked about it and dreamed about it, but I couldn’t believe that I made it a reality,” said Filipkowski.
According to FIFA regulations, players are eligible to represent a country in international competitions if they show a “clear connection” to the team they wish to play for, which includes having parents or grandparents that are from that country. With lots of family living on the island who she visits several times a year, Filipkowski already had the connection to Puerto Rico and its culture and wanted the chance to represent the island on the pitch.
Thanks to a call from the George Washington University (where Filipkowski will play next season) coaching staff to the Puerto Rican soccer federation, the program’s regional scout watched her play for her club team and invited Filipkowski to a tryout in Boston. The first tryout went well and that led to another camp, this time for a week in Puerto Rico.
Filipkowski estimated that there were around 150 girls invited from the U.S. to attend two tryouts and from that group a 30-player roster was formed with 20 players part of the active, traveling squad and a further 10 as reserves.
“I was super excited when I found out I was part of the U-20 team,” she explained. “I was completely in awe because it had been a dream of mine, but I didn’t want to get too excited until I saw the traveling roster because I wanted a chance to compete and represent my country.”
When the coaches made their decisions on who to bring with them for the upcoming Caribbean championships, Filipkowski was one of the 10 players from U.S. mainland selected. It was the moment that a dream came true for Sharon’s captain and a special moment to share with her mother.
“My mom was in awe,” Filipkowski recalled. “She didn’t really have much to say; she was just in disbelief that this far-fetched idea was becoming a real thing.”
Puerto Rico started its summer competition against the island of Bonaire on July 19 and started well, winning 11-0. That was followed two days later by a 6-0 victory over Antigua and Barbuda, as the Puerto Rican team showed why it was considered the team to beat in the group. According to Filipkowski, all 10 of the players from the mainland are committed to Div. I NCAA programs and the majority of players from the island are in university programs, with two who are being recruited for the next level.
Filipkowski was given the chance to be part of the starting 11 and the honor of pulling on the Puerto Rican jersey meant far more than simply being able to showcase her talent on the pitch.
“I had no idea what I was going to feel,” she said, “but when I was selected for the starting 11 for that first game, hearing the national anthem, really grasping the culture of Puerto Rico…I felt such love for the country and I was surprised how much love you can feel for a country you don’t live in.”
Although the result was not perfect, it was also the chance to experience international crowds and the very different atmosphere that conveys on the game.
“It was really hard, especially when they scored a really cheap goal and they had their whole home country behind them at the stadium it was really hard to rally back,” Filipkowski said. “They were really rowdy with their bands and their horns and their trumpets. It was crazy but it was really cool.”
The coaches have already indicated that Filipkowski, who will still be age-eligible, is in their plans for the next World Cup cycle, which will begin in two years. For now, she is focused on taking what she learned (on and off the pitch) and bringing it back to Sharon, where the Eagles got off to a flying start with a 6-0 victory over Norwood on opening day. Filipkowski scored all six goals that day.
“I try every day to bring what I’ve learned from my past experiences to the field in Sharon,” she said. “International soccer is a very rare experience, so I think anyone who gets that unique experience is going to take a lot out of it and this experience has encouraged me to make my game better than it already is and be the best player I can be.”