Growing up in Logan Heights, Carolina Soto could not wait to get out of the South County. Once she did, however, she had a huge change of heart.
Now, after starring in college and playing professional soccer, her heart belongs to the women’s team at Southwestern College and Chula Vista High School.
Soto was asked to take over the SWC program less than three weeks before the start of the season when coach Karyna Figueroa went on maternity leave earlier than expected. Several Lady Jaguar players had already quit before Sotto arrived, but those who stayed say they are glad they did.
“We’ve had our struggles, but overall she (Soto) is a good coach,” said goalkeeper Donna Greenman. “I look forward to figuring out how to make our team stronger.”
Forward Jennifer Rodriguez said Soto made the players into a team.
“She had a lot to deal with through-out the season but she brought it together not only with her skill in teaching, but also relating to us and getting to know us on a different level,” she said. “That really helped out.”
Soto said she was happy to step in. She quickly pulled together the team and posted a 12-7-2 record (9-4-2 conference). Very impressive considering the circumstances.
“I wanted to come back and help my community,” she said. “I want to be a role model.”
Soto said she played with a soccer ball before she could even walk. She credited her soccer-player father with igniting her passion for the sport.
“My dad has been my biggest influence,” she said. “There are pictures of us when I was about 1 or 2 years old and I’m sitting on his lap in his team pictures.”
The Beautiful Game is part of her family heritage, said Soto.
“I’ve always had a lot of support from my father and my entire family,” she said.
It could have been very easy to fall in with the wrong crowd as a young Latina in a place like Logan Heights, Soto said, but soccer became her outlet and ultimately opened a door to a world of opportunities.
“I grew up in a tough neighborhood,” she said. “Other people were out doing things they weren’t supposed to do, but soccer kept me away from that.”
At age 9 she began playing for the local YMCA league and worked her way onto elite teams like Crusaders Spirit and the Bonita Rebels.
After serving as team captain at Montgomery High School she attended USIU then Long Beach State University, earning degrees in kinesiology and Chicano/ Latino studies.
She played professionally for the San Diego Gauchos and coached with Olympic gold medalist Julie Foudy.
Coaching the Lady Jaguars has been a revelation, she said.
“This is my calling,” she said. “I feel completely blessed.”
Rodriguez describes Soto as a person and a coach.
“She has a passion for soccer and for helping players develop their skills,” said Rodriguez. “As a coach she is determined to get the players to be on the same page and flow with each other, no matter the situation.”