By Gideon Rubin
ContributorNatalie Vinti has this habit of selling herself short, only to come up big.
Vinti didn’t give herself much a chance when she went out for a loaded soccer squad at University City High (before it became Cathedral Catholic) freshman year. She picked University of San Diego ahead of some higher profile programs figuring it was her best chance to get regular playing time at a Div. I college. She never dreamed she’d play organized soccer at any level after hanging up her cleats for the last time at USD.
Vinti has exceeded her own expectations at every turn.
She instantly became an impact player as a freshman in high school. Then she proved she could have played at any college she wanted to during a stellar USD career.
And a lifetime of selling herself short has culminated with her emergence as a world-class soccer star who played in this year’s Women’s World Cup in Germany, representing Mexico’s national team.
Vinti is among two local players who competed in the World Cup. Torrey Pines High’s Rachel Buehler, who played for Team USA, is the other.
“I never thought in a million years that I’d be playing in the World Cup, it was just overwhelming at times,” Vinti said.
“An experience like this is kind of hard to describe in words, because of the emotion, the crowd, and seeing my family up there cheering me on in the World Cup. It was just incredible.”
Vinti is the first player in her high school program’s distinguished history to appear in a World Cup.
And even though she’s played for the Mexican national team for nearly four years, it wasn’t until her role became widely publicized during the World Cup qualifiers earlier this year that many of her friends knew about her status as a world class competitor.
“A lot of people would Facebook me when the World Cup qualifiers were going saying ‘I didn’t know you play for Mexico national team…’ ” Vinti said.
“My parents like to brag about me, but it’s not something I feel I need to advertise. It’s something I am very proud of, but there’s a fine line between being proud of yourself and being conceited.”
Vinti has walked the low-key side of that line throughout her career.
“That’s always how she’s been,” said Cathedral Catholic coach Dawn Lee, who coached Vinti all four years of her high school career.
“She never felt like she was that strong of a player, but she made the varsity as a freshman and was an impact player right from the start.”
Vinti was a three-time All-San Diego Section and three-time All-Western League selection at Cathedral Catholic and University City, leading the Dons to three section titles, one runner-up, and four league titles.
She was among five four-year Dons starters who instantly became known as the “Fab Five.” All five players went on to play at Div. I colleges after graduating in 2006.
She helped lead an unheralded USD program to as high as 11th in the national rankings during her junior year.
Vinti went out for the Mexican national team at the prodding of her college coach, Ada Greenwood, who arranged for a tryout when the Mexican national team was playing USC in a spring game.
“I didn’t really have any expectations,” Vinti said. “I wanted to make the team but I didn’t know how hard it was going to be.
“I didn’t’ really know what I was getting into, I just thought I was practicing with a few other girls.”
The Mexican national coach, Leo Cuellar coaches apparently liked what he saw, asking Vinti after the workout “how quick I could get my citizenship.”
Vinti was eligible for citizenship because her mother, Carmen Nuno Vinti, is a Mexican citizen who was born in Guadalajara.
“When this opportunity presented itself, I didn’t even give it a second thought, Vinti said.
“I was for sure going to do this because it was something I’ve always wanted to do, and to be able to play in the
World Cup I feel like all the sacrifices, blood, sweat and tears and missed dances (in high school), it was all worth it.”
Vinti played center midfielder most of her high school career and center defender at USD. She now plays outside defender for the Mexican National team.
Vinti played in every minute of all three games for Mexico in the World Cup.
Her team played England and New Zealand to 1-1 and 2-2 ties, but lost to eventual champion Japan, 4-0.
“She was a major factor in her team’s defense being as successful as it was,” Lee said of Vinti. “She held some of the world’s best players without scoring.”
But the exciting part for an extended Dons family was hearing Venti’s name mentioned what seemed like every two seconds.
“They mentioned her name so many times, it was like ‘Natalie Vinti… Natalie Vinti… Natalie Vinti.’
“It was amazing,” Lee said.
“You enjoy that because she’s someone who never expected anything to be handed to her and all these good things are happening to her Everything to her was like ‘This is so cool, this is so amazing, who’d have ever thought?’ so you’re just so happy for someone who never expected anything and worked hard and it always worked out.”