Jennifer Sosa, the Angel of the Goal

  • Born in the USA, the 14-year-old is the baby of the squad

  • At 9, she used football as a distraction when she lost everything in a fire

  • Now she is dreaming of lifting the U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay

Behind Jennifer Sosa's sunny disposition and contagious smile, there lies a remarkable life journey.

The 14-year-old goalkeeper, who is preparing to represent the hosts at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018, was actually born in New York after her father Hector moved to the United States in search of a better life. However, disaster struck when Jennifer’s family home in the Bronx burned down when she was only 9-years-old.

"We were going to bed when smoke started appearing under a door. The house was catching fire and we didn’t have time to do anything," she told in near-perfect Spanish, albeit with the hint of a North American accent.

"We were left in the street and they took us to a shelter where they help you to find a home. It takes some people years, but we left after only six months. We were really lucky," continued the goalkeeper.

It was at that time that football appeared in her life. "My dad would take me to play as a means of distraction. One day he started taking shots at me. I made some good saves and, when we got home, he told my mum that I had what it took to be a goalkeeper."

Jennifer always related "football and La Celeste with Uruguayan culture". Although she remembers celebrating the country’s Copa America triumph in 2011, her passion for the sport only really started to develop once she had been spotted by New York City FC and began putting in the hard yards to attend training.

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY - NOVEMBER 11: Jennifer Sosa in action during Uruguay training session ahead of the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018 on November 11, 2018 in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

The road to the World Cup

Having seen how well she coped when playing with older boys, her father created a Facebook page where he posted photos and videos of Jennifer in action. One thing led to another and, in mid-2017, the call came from the national team.

At 13 years of age, Jennifer was to set foot on Uruguayan soil for the first time.

"I spent three months there training, then in September I returned to the United States to finish middle school. It was a really great experience," said the goalkeeper, who stayed with her godfather in Uruguay.

She returned to the country in May for the national team's warm-up tour of China PR, by which time she had learnt the national anthem by heart. "Dad told me that, in order to be like the other girls and completely Uruguayan, I would have to learn it. So I practised and practised."

Understandably, Jennifer’s nerves start to jangle at the thought of what it will be like to sing that anthem on 13 November before her country’s opening game against Ghana. Still smiling, she even slips in a word of English as her Spanish for once fails her.

"It will be emotional, but we’ve really prepared for this day. Our aim is to win the first game, to get through to the next round, and then we'll see. We're all dreaming about lifting the trophy and helping to raise the profile of women’s football here."

Did you know?

  • Jennifer will celebrate her 15th birthday during the tournament.

  • Her father has nicknamed her ‘The Angel of the Goal’: "We’re a religious family and one day the image of an angel came to him before a final that I played in. I played well so he came up with the nickname."

  • Each time she visits Uruguay, she takes football kit, boots and other equipment from her club to give to Club Aranchas de Melo, a team from her father’s hometown.

  • She wants to be a professional footballer but she also wants to study architecture in the USA: "I like art, drawing and building things, and football won’t be forever."

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY - NOVEMBER 11: Jennifer Sosa looks on during Uruguay training session ahead of the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018 on November 11, 2018 in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)