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JoEllen DeLeon, first from top right, stands with fellow members of the Philippines national soccer team.
June 19, 2013
MONMOUTH -- Ever dream of playing the sport you love with the hopes of an entire country riding on your shoulders?
JoEllen DeLeon can already add that to her list of life accomplishments.
The Western Oregon University soccer player embraced the experience of a lifetime when she competed for the Philippine Senior Women's National Team during its Asian Cup qualifying in late May in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
DeLeon, who will compete in her junior season for the Wolves in the fall, saw action in the team's Group B finale, a 4-0 win over host Bangladesh on May 25.
"Just walking onto that field and seeing all those fans -- and then you realize that you're playing for those fans and everyone back home and everyone in the Philippines. ... It's insane how you can give such inspiration to people like that just from playing this game that you love," DeLeon said.
Team Philippines -- nicknamed "Malditas" by its home country -- entered the Asian Cup qualifying as a huge underdog.
"The media and all the other teams, they definitely didn't think we had a chance," DeLeon, a Centennial High (Gresham) grad, said. "But they didn't know we had recruited a whole new team."
New head coach Ernie Nierras, searching for talent to compete with teams like Group B's top-seeded Thailand, had scoured the United States for Philippine players over the course of a year to create a 25-member squad that featured 16 to 17 American college and high school players.
WOU junior JoEllen DeLeon recently competed for Team Philippines in the Asian Cup qualifying rounds in May.
After the players flew into Manila, Philippines, for a two-week camp to learn how to play with one another, Malditas opened Group B play with a surprising 6-0 victory over Iran May 21.
In Game 2, Team Philippines gave Thailand a fight, too, before falling in a close 1-0 decision.
The loss eliminated the Philippines from qualifying for next year's Asian Cup, which will determine who qualifies for the 2015 World Cup.
Despite the loss, DeLeon -- whose parents, Joel and Marissa, are Philippine natives -- said the experience was something she'll never forget.
"It was just unbelievable," she said. "At first, you have to block out everything and try to play like you're just playing a regular game.
"But when you look back to see what you did, it's crazy thinking about it."
DeLeon has two seasons of soccer left at WOU, but said it's possible that she'll get the call to compete for the Philippines again in various tournaments, if she's available.
"I'll have to let them know, but I think it's just whoever is available and whoever they want, they'll invite