At the youthful age of 15, Melanie Barcenas is already leaving a mark on women’s soccer.
From becoming the National Women’s Soccer League’s youngest-ever contracted player to landing a game-changing deal with Nike, Barcenas’ rise reads like a Hollywood script. Yet, she aspires to be more than a record-breaker and endorsement magnet. Fueled by her love of soccer and a deep connection to her Mexican American roots, she aims to encourage girls worldwide, especially Latinas.
“I am hoping that I can pave the way so that young girls who are Latina can have someone to look up to and relate to in soccer,” Barcenas said. “It keeps pushing me to continue to work hard.”
Barcenas’ soccer journey began when she was just 5 years old. While shopping for softball gear with her family, fate took an unexpected turn when her younger brother Xzavier picked up a soccer ball. It wasn’t long before Melanie fell in love with the game.
She took her first steps into the world of soccer by joining the Albion Soccer Club in San Diego. The following summer her father and uncle took on the roles of trainers and she established herself as one of team’s best players.
Looking to test her skills against better competition, Barcenas then joined the San Diego Surf. With the Surf, she experienced significant growth as an athlete.
Her relentless pursuit of improvement persisted. Even during the off-season, she continued to have training sessions led by her father and alongside her brother. Barcenas credited Xzavier’s presence as her training partner for her evolution as a player.
Barcenas had the opportunity to participate in training camps with Mexico’s U17 team in early 2022, an experience she describes as both unique and deeply meaningful, as it felt close to the culture she’s familiar with.
“At home, my family and I joke around a lot, and at the camp, the team and I were laughing and it was a great thing to have because I really saw the culture and it was overall a really good experience,” she said.
On March 21, she achieved the historic milestone of becoming the first homegrown player to sign a contract with an NWSL team.
SD Wave head coach Casey Stoney conveyed her appreciation for having a talent such as Barcenas on the team, highlighting how she is already displaying remarkable potential and serving as a source of inspiration for other young girls.
“We can see the huge amount of potential and the extreme talent. She’s got something that you see very rarely in the women’s game,” Stoney said. “Being a local girl, a local talent, I think it gives aspirations to the young girls in the local area.”
While growing up, Barcenas was an avid spectator of the sport on television, drawing inspiration from two soccer legends who fueled her ambition: Neymar and Alex Morgan. Now, she stands side by side with Morgan as teammates on the Wave.
Barcenas said she admires Morgan not only for her exceptional leadership, but also for her valuable qualities off the field.
“She’s always been someone that I’ve looked up to,” Barcenas said. “She’s a great leader and I am learning from her off the field, especially with what she’s doing with the community and also how disciplined she is.”
When asked what her most memorable moment in the NWSL has been so far, she said it’s the environment within her team that she treasures the most.
“I never show up to practice upset or leave upset. I am always happy and want to return the next day,” she said. “I miss it whenever we have a two-day break, so being a part of this team is just great.”
During SD Wave’s match with NJ/NY Gotham FC on Aug. 19, Barcenas etched her name once again in the NWSL record books. This time as the youngest player to deliver an assist in league history. Her precise pass to Amirah Ali set up a crucial goal, ultimately clinching their victory and taking them to the top of the table.
Barcenas described her assist as “awesome,” yet she humbly emphasized that her priority was securing the victory alongside her teammates.
While a short-term objective for Barcenas is to win the championship with SD Wave, her aspirations extend far beyond that. The young talent envisions herself as a member of a World Cup team, underlining her determination by saying, “I want to be the best player.”
Barcenas was most recently selected to join the U.S. U17 Women’s Youth National Team for their September camp, taking place from Sept. 17 to 26 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson. The camp comprises 26 players and features two friendly matches against Japan’s U17 team.
Barcenas’ father, Carlos, expressed his immense pride in his daughter and, most importantly, his happiness in witnessing her fully immersed in her passion and enjoying every moment of her life pursuing what she loves.
Carlos Barcenas also shared his belief that his daughter has the potential to be a player who can transform perceptions of women’s soccer and contribute to increasing the sport’s visibility.
“She’s having success on and off the field, and when I say ‘off the field,’ I mean all of the girls that she is motivating,” he said. “Growing up, Melanie would ask, ‘How come we can never see women’s soccer on ESPN?’ I think she can be one of those players to help change the game and the way people view women’s soccer.”