Simon Veness is a beat writer covering Orlando City SC for MLSsoccer.com. He has been writing about soccer for various media in the UK and USA since 1981. You can view all of his stories written for MLSsoccer.com here.
ORLANDO, Fla.--When it comes to name-checking role models in sports, many players name legends from on the field. Not so Orlando City SC midfielder Servando Carrasco.
Instead, says the 27-year-old, he looks to apply in the game everything he’s learned from a special bond with his mother. “Every day, I just try to be like her,” he says. “She is kind, generous and compassionate, but she is also incredibly strong and independent. She is simply the most selfless person I have ever met.”
This Mother’s Day promises extra special significance for Carrasco and his family. With his mother, Gloria’s, birthday falling the day before, they’ll all mark a special milestone—her survival of separate bouts with breast and uterine cancer.
To mark the occasion, the whole Carrasco family will fly into town for Orlando City’s Friday-night home game against the New York Red Bulls. They’ll also, on Sunday, attend the Orlando Pride home game—that is, naturally, the home of Carrasco’s wife, USWNT star Alex Morgan.
“She is super-excited to be coming to our game on Friday and then Alex’s [wife Alex Morgan] on Mother’s Day,” Carrasco says of his mother. “In between, we can all go to Disney together.”
Their collective joy today stands in stark contrast to a fateful day in 2006. While he was training at a soccer camp in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he received a phone call from home with bad news—Gloria had stage three breast cancer.
“I was supposed to be in Argentina from August to December, training for a tryout with [Mexican team] Necaxa in December,” he recalls. “In typical fashion, she decided not to tell me until late November, so I didn’t miss too much of the training. Obviously I flew home straight away."
Seeing the figure he viewed as a super woman in a vulnerable position hit Carrasco and his sister hard. “It was a total shock,” he says. “But, knowing who she is and how she confronts this kind of situation, we knew she would make it through. Her positive attitude was always there and that’s the one thing that I took from her.”
Gloria Carrasco, meanwhile, says she used Servando’s college career at the University of California, Berkeley, as a rallying point for her own treatment and recovery.
“I couldn’t fly because of the treatment I was having, but I only missed one game because of it,” she says. “Servando and A.J. Soares [who was drafted by New England before joining Norwegians Viking FK] had played together since they were eight, and they both made it to Berkeley. So A.J.’s mother and I would jump in a car and follow them through every road game. We had a great time, and, when they won the title in 2010, it was very emotional.”
Gloria survived a lumpectomy, and then chemotherapy and radiation, only to be diagnosed with a form of uterine cancer two years later. But once again, she beat it—and it’s clear that her dominating spirit has influenced Servando’s career.
Despite playing for his fourth MLS team in five years, he remains one of the most cheerful and whole-hearted players on the training field. Orlando City’s Adrian Heath can plug him into his midfield, either as a direct replacement for Cristian Higuita or Darwin Ceren, or as an extra reinforcement for the engine room. Either way, his commitment never wavers. Both fans and fellow players count Carrasco as a favorite, and he and Morgan make for a crowd-pleasing double-act off the field.
Carrasco has yet to score for Orlando, but Friday night, with the whole family watching, might just be the perfect occasion to put that right. Mind you, his mother’s arrival also signals something else, he says–the promise of a great meal.
“I’ve been here in Orlando for almost a year, but I still haven’t found a great Mexican restaurant,” says the native of Tijuana and San Diego. “There are good restaurants, but not the kind of street food I was used to growing up. But, with my mom coming, I am really looking forward to some good home-cooking!”