By Matthew Resnick
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
With Kansas women’s soccer coming off its best season since 2008, the Jayhawks are looking for someone to fill the void of the six departing seniors. One player who has stepped up and looks ready to take on one of those roles is Liana Salazar, a redshirt sophomore midfielder.
Salazar was born and raised in Bogotá, Columbia and soccer became a part of life at the age of four when her father and brother introduced her to the sport. As Salazar grew up, she started to play competitively. In the schools that she attended, she was the only girl who played soccer so she spent much of her time playing with the boys. By the time she got to high school she carried on her reputation of being the only girl who played soccer at that level, competing on her school’s boys’ team.
As the years went on and Salazar kept playing, something was about to happen that would change her life.
“One afternoon I was simply playing for my hometown,” Salazar said. “Then I received a phone call asking if I wanted to represent Columbia in the World Cup. I honestly thought I would just be playing soccer at school. Never for a moment did I think I would be representing my nation.”
Salazar went on to compete in the U17 World Cup as a 14-year-old, but her international experience didn’t stop there. Salazar was fortunate enough to represent Columbia in the U20 and Senior World Cups.
“I feel very privileged,” Salazar said. ”Being able to travel all over the world and compete is something that you dream about as an athlete. Words cannot describe the honor and appreciation one has when representing their country in the World Cup.”
While representing her country all over the world, Salazar had another big decision ahead of her; where was she going to play college soccer?
“When it became time to find a school I was looking for a place where I could feel at home,” Salazar said. “Coach (Mark Francis) was very interested in me. He cared about me, and talked with me all the time. Kansas just felt right. It gave me a warm feeling inside.”
In her first year at Kansas, Salazar was nothing short of impressive. She was one of four players on her team to start all 21 games while logging over 1,700 minutes. Salazar’s first-collegiate career goal was a game-winning score in the 81st minute of a 2-1 win versus South Dakota State. She ended the season with five goals and was named to the 2011 National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-Central Region Third Team and to the 2011 Big 12 All-Newcomer Team.
Following her freshman season, Salazar returned to the international playing field as she represented Columbia once more. This time it would not be in the World Cup but what can be argued as the single greatest sporting event in the world, the 2012 Olympics. Although Columbia’s playing time was cut short by an early exit in pool play, Salazar was still able to stay throughout the course of the entire London Games.
“The Olympics, I feel, is much more distracting to athletes than the World Cup,” Salazar said. “When you are in the Olympics you are with the entire world and you want to go here and talk to these people, which can cause a player to lose focus. But regardless of those distractions, the experience was amazing.”
Upon Salazar’s return to Kansas in the fall of 2012 following the Olympics, she and the coaches felt it would be in her best interest to redshirt her sophomore season. This was decided upon so Salazar could catch up with her classes and get back into the swing of things, as she had spent much time away from the program.
Among all the events Salazar has been through in her 17-year soccer career, there is one moment that stands out above all the rest.
“The best memory I have is at the U20 World Cup in our match against Switzerland,” Salazar said. “It was considered by many to be the best game of the World Cup. Our team played in a way that we had never played before. We were all connected and pulled out a 2-0 win, which helped us advance to the quarterfinals. We showed that we were a team to be reckoned with.”
With all the International experience that Salazar has endured, head coach Mark Francis believes Salazar has a lot to offer the Jayhawks.
“Liana-having played in big games-I think it benefits her when we get into those big games and wild atmospheres,” Francis said. “Plus it allows her to help the other players in those types of situations, and hopefully it will begin to rub off on them.”
Now Salazar is back on the playing field for the Jayhawks. Coach Francis believes that she has found her groove again these past two games against South Dakota State and Illinois State after a slow start due to being away for so long. During these games Salazar has recorded two assists and one goal.
Salazar hopes to stay in the United States after graduation and play soccer professionally. But if that doesn’t happen, she looks to go play at the professional level in Europe. Once her soccer career has come to an end, Salazar wants to hopefully use the marketing degree, which she is currently working on obtaining, to make her way into the world of sports marketing. With graduation still three years away, for the time being, Salazar will continue to enjoy her stay at the University of Kansas, and just be appreciative of what she has going on in her life right now.