Paul Riley describes her play simply as “poetry in motion.”
“Magical” is another word that comes to mind for the Portland Thorns FC coach as he talks about Veronica Boquete, the defending NWSL champions’ latest addition.
On Saturday, the Spanish midfielder begins composing what is expected to be another brilliant stanza when she debuts for Portland, returning to the U.S. for the first time in three years almost to the day of her last debut. In 2011, “Vero,” as she’s best known, joined Riley’s Philadelphia Independence team mid-WPS season and led them to the final, where they lost to the Western New York Flash on penalty kicks.
Boquete won league MVP honors that year despite playing in only 11 of 18 games. Her performances were that impactful on Philadelphia and her play that mesmerizing, even in a league in which the Flash’s Marta and Christine Sinclair ran tallied 10 goals apiece. Boquete’s ability on the ball was – and remains – captivating.
“There are only a few true No. 10s in women’s soccer, and Vero is a game-changer,” Riley said, calling her “an effervescent personality on the field and a dynamic player who can unlock any defense on the dribble and through a pass.
“The true test of greatness for any player is what you make those players around you. Vero makes them hungry, willing, thoughtful and committed to succeed.”
Boquete’s ability to boost the entire team’s level of play is exactly what a struggling Portland side needs. The Thorns (4-3-2, 14 pts.) are over a week removed from their worst loss in franchise history and sit four points outside of a playoff spot, though they have games in hand.
Saturday’s debut should bring plenty of familiar settings for Boquete, who first played in the U.S. in 2010 with the Flash, then of the semi-pro USL W-League. The current rendition of the Flash also features three of Boquete’s Spain teammates, and Western New York is the team who traded her rights to Portland in order to make the reunion with Riley possible. One of Riley’s first goals upon being announced as new Thorns coach in December was to acquire Boquete, and the only way she was going to return to the United States was playing for her old coach.
“He is the big reason that I am here,” Boquete said of her coach. “I played for him for three months. He gave me all the confidence – he always expects the best from me and that made me work harder and do my best. I always said that if I had the chance to come back and play for him again, it would be a pleasure. So, I am back!”
The Spanish star believes she’ll continue to grow under Riley, as she did in 2011. There’s a mutual respect between coach and player; the expectations of each other are unspoken, but understood.
“The best for me is that he pushes you so far that you have two ways: You just go down and you hate him or you go up and up and you love him,” Boquete said. “And in my case, the second one was the one that happened. He pushes you in every practice. You have to be focused; you have to be motivated. Ninety percent was never enough.”
Boquete is undoubtedly an even better player three years later. The captain of Spain has her national team on the verge of its first World Cup finals berth in history as group leaders in UEFA qualifying.
She has spent the last two years with Tyresö FF in Sweden, where she was a focal point of that star-studded team that one of the best in the world up until its UEFA Champions League final loss to Wolfsburg two weeks ago. Marta, Caroline Seger, and Christen Press were among the stars there.
But on Thursday, Tyresö announced it would not finish the 2014 Damallsvenskan season due to ongoing financial problems. All players were immediately released. Boquete says they did not get paid in April or May, but they played through the issues with the goal of winning a Champions League title.
She doesn’t regret that, calling Tyresö the best team she’s played for and the best years of her career. The high points on the field and the low-point of a quick economic downturn for the club are life lessons, she said Thursday.
“It was really hard. We have the memories and we will enjoy them.”
“We never had any problem before, so for us it came as a big surprise,” she said of the team’s financial issues. “Everything seemed like it was totally normal. In one, two weeks everything changed. The club said that they don’t have any money, that they lost some sponsors and some other things.”
Tyresö’s collapse is reminiscent of American women’s soccer financial challenges. Saint Louis Athletica folded mid-season in 2010, and several other WPS teams – along with the league itself in early 2012 – went under.
Boquete, though, is now focused on improving the Thorns over their final 13 games of the season in hopes of leading them to a second straight championship. She’ll do so with world-class talent around her similar to her time at Tyresö. Alex Morgan is set to re-join the Thorns on Saturday, joining Sinclair for what is, on paper, one of the best forward duos in the world.
Boquete’s re-introduction stateside is another chance for that poetic brilliance that so few others in the world possess, and it begins on Saturday in Portland against a reeling Flash team on a franchise-worst five-game winless streak.
“It’s a big game,” Boquete said. “It’s maybe the best that I can play (against) all these teams. It’s at home, so this is extra motivation. Let’s see how everything goes, but the team is practicing so hard and everyone is ready for the battle.”
A sample of what to expect:
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