‘Mormon soccer mom’ plying her trade in the pro, national ranks

Credit: Photo courtesy of Michele Vasconcelos
UNLV Chidera Akubuilo (19) battles BYU Michele Vasconcelos (7) for the ball as BYU and UNLV play in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Provo on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Scott G Winterton
BYU Michele Vasconcelos (7) centers the ball as BYU and UNLV play in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Provo on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Scott G Winterton

SANDY, Utah — Michele Vasconcelos may have forever redefined the term “Mormon soccer mom.”

The 23-year-old BYU grad is a lifelong Latter-day Saint. She’s also a professional soccer player who just finished training with the U-23 U.S. National Team. And, yes, she’s the mother of a 4-month-old daughter named Scarlett.

So is Mormon/pro athlete/mom a rare combination? Absolutely — but it’s one Vasconcelos embraces with the same energy that defines her attack-minded play on the soccer pitch.

“I never imagined that being a mother and a pro athlete was a possibility,” she said a few days after returning from the national team training camp in Orlando. “I always figured it would be one or the other. Now to do both — and to share it all with my child — is pretty amazing.”

Vasconcelos admits that the events of the past year have left her humbled, a little frightened and very, very grateful.

After finishing a stellar college career at BYU, she decided she’d move on to the professional ranks. On Jan. 12, the Chicago Red Stars selected her with the 11th pick in the National Women’s Soccer League draft.

But even bigger, albeit unexpected, news arrived a few days later. Michele and her husband, Pedro Vasconcelos, found out they were going to be parents.

“I was shocked,” she said.

She also wondered if her dream of playing professional soccer would be realized. Could she compete at the sport’s highest level and care for a toddler? Would her soccer skills erode during her pregnancy?

She didn’t have the answers, so she turned to prayer. Being an expectant mother offered her enhanced perspective. After being initially shaken by the baby news, “there was then joy and peace,” she said.

She flew to Chicago to tell her new coach, Rory Dames, that she would be missing the 2017 NWSL season. She didn’t know how the team would respond.

“I was amazed by their support,” she said. “My coach told me he was happy for me. He told me that soccer isn’t the only thing in life and that he would plan on me for next year.”

She heard similar encouragement from the Chicago team ownership.

Vasconcelos met often with her doctor to develop an appropriate fitness regimen during her pregnancy. Because she was already in top condition, she was able to remain active “literally until the day the baby was born.”

Obviously she couldn’t play a high-contact sport such as soccer. “But I figured if I could keep up my fitness and strength while I was pregnant, the soccer stuff would come later.”

She rested for six weeks after Baby Scarlett arrived. Then she got back to the work of being a professional athlete. She admits to some rust when she began training regularly with a local boys team.

“I felt really slow; I couldn’t move my feet quickly to push off,” she said. “It was humbling, but with each new week I noticed little things that were coming back.”

Last month, she again received unexpected news. She was being called into the U.S. U-23 training camp — her first experience with the national program.

She admits that being a wife, a mother and a Mormon made her a bit of a curiosity for her new teammates.

“But everyone was really cool,” she said. “During the whole week of camp the other girls were always asking about Scarlett and if it was hard being away from her. My parents were constantly sending me videos of the baby.”

In a few weeks she’ll leave her home in Sandy, Utah, and relocate with Pedro and Scarlett in Chicago. She will play her first professional game next February with a certainty that the Lord is guiding her life.

Recently, Vasconcelos spoke in the Sandy Utah Crescent Stake Conference. While preparing for the talk, she remembered the ancient account of Lot’s wife who unwisely looked back on Sodom, longing for former days.

“I knew I needed to have the faith that Heavenly Father knows what is ahead for me,” she said.

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