“I have the best of both worlds. I have a real job and I can compete in the greatest women’s competitions,” the right-side defender said by phone last week from the Swiss Alps, where Colombia was making final preparations for the Olympics.
Arias, 26, is a Northern Virginia native. Mentored by her father, she played for elite youth clubs and starred at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington. She capped her career in 2003 with a 30-goal season, all-America honors, The Post’s All-Met player of the year award and a scholarship to play for the Terrapins.
Arias never went beyond the youth system in the U.S. national program, a pioneer in women’s soccer that boasts a deep player pool and an elite senior roster. Through family roots, however, she has earned regular call-ups to the nascent Colombian program.
Arias played every minute at the Women’s World Cup last summer in Germany and the Pan Am Games last fall in Mexico.
Beginning next week, she and Colombia will confront a daunting group in their first Olympic appearance. Ranked No. 28 in the world, Las Cafeteras (essentially translated as the Coffee Machines) will need at least one victory and a tie against eighth-ranked North Korea, top-ranked United States and sixth-rated France in order to remain in contention for a quarterfinal berth.
Like most South American countries, where men’s soccer dominates conversation and resources, Colombia is decades behind programs in North America, Europe and Asia. Progress is measured in appearances in world events, not necessarily in results. Not yet, anyway.
“We know what we’re up against and we welcome the challenge,” Arias said. “The Olympics are another step in our growth.”
Two other American-born players are on the roster: forward Melissa Ortiz (Lynn University in Florida) and midfielder Ana-Maria Montoya (Arizona).
With U.S. defender Ali Krieger (Forest Park High) sidelined by a knee injury, Arias is the only female player from Washington’s vast youth structure to make an Olympic soccer roster.
After graduating from Maryland, Arias thought her competitive soccer days were over. She was cut by the Washington Freedom, which lasted two years in defunct Women’s Professional Soccer. With full-time work beckoning, pursuit of a semipro career in Europe wasn’t practical.
Her father, Fernando, an area youth coach for 17 years, thought she still had plenty to contribute. On his daughter’s behalf, he reached out to Venezuela, his birthplace. “They weren’t very interested,” said Fernando, who runs a furniture upholstery business in Woodbridge.
Colombia’s coach, however, was intrigued.