National Team Dreams: Omaha HS Soccer Star Working Toward a Big Goal

Michelle Xiao takes a penalty kick in a Westside practice. (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)
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May 13, 2015 - 6:45am

The Nebraska High School soccer championships start May 14 in Omaha. One of the top players in Nebraska will be on the field for Omaha Westside, but she’s also making progress toward some bigger goals.

Watch the NSAA Nebraska High School Soccer Championship games on NET Television (NET World) for the first time this year. A Class B and A boys championship doubleheader begins Monday, May 18 at 5:30 CT; girls games are Tuesday, May 19 beginning at 5:30 p.m. CT. MORE INFO



Michelle Xiao (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)


Westside girls coach Nathan Moseley (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)


Xiao (R) juggles with a teammate during a break in Westside's practice. (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)


Xiao (R) and U-17 National Team teammate Dorian Bailey from the Kansas City-area celebrate after a tournament in 2014. (Courtesy photo)

A decade ago a little 8-year-old Omaha girl was playing in one of her first soccer games. “I was dribbling on a breakaway, open goal, toe ball it and completely miss the goal,” Michelle Xiao recalled.

Xiao hasn’t missed much since then. Watch her in practice, and it’s easy to see why the senior from Omaha Westside High School is considered one of Nebraska’s best. The fast fluid movement, the way she controls the ball and sends pinpoint passes to teammates, and the rocketing shots, especially from her dominant left foot.

Westside coach Nathan Moseley said it’s talent that was quickly obvious. “I mean her first practice, honestly, her freshman year,” Moseley said. “At tryouts, you could tell even from that first day this is somebody special. She’s going to make a big difference and play at the highest levels. I’m probably biased, but I would say she’s the best in the state, obviously, and one of the best in the country.”

Calling Xiao “one of the best in the country” isn’t an exaggeration. For several years she’s been part of the U.S. Women’s National Team program, most recently on the U-19 team for players under the age of 19. Earning a spot in the pool of players for the periodic training camps and tournaments for these teams isn’t easy; just 24 players were selected for the most recent U-19 camp. And it’s rare, almost unheard of, for a player from Nebraska, although another Omaha player is part of the U-20 program. Maddie Elliston, an Omaha Marian graduate who is a freshman at Penn State, started for the U.S. team during a recent tournament in Spain.

Xiao said playing for her country is an amazing, sometimes emotional experience. “It was cool just listening to the national anthem, representing your country, wearing the crest on your chest. Afterwards you thought, ‘wow, out of how many million kids in the nation I was able to represent my country to play in an international match.’”

Being selected for the national team doesn’t come without sacrifice. Xiao missed three Westside games this spring for a training camp; last year she had to miss her high school’s first-round game in the state tournament because of another camp, a game highly-ranked Westside lost. It’s a tough trade-off. Turn down a national team call-up, and you may be out of the pool of players under consideration for these highly-competitive spots.

“Once I get the call it’s 100 percent ‘yes’ to go to national team,” Xaio said, “and then it’s sad because I have to miss couple games with my team, but my teammates are all understanding.”

“Obviously we would love to have her for every game, every practice,” Moseley added. “But you go in with the understanding that somebody at that level, you enjoy them while you have them there, and know that it’s also making the rest of the team better. I mean if you’re going against somebody that’s a national caliber player, obviously that’s going to make everyone around them better through training, through games.”

For Xiao, it’s also about a bigger goal. “My number one goal is definitely to make the full women’s national team,” she said. “One camp we actually got to watch the full national team train and play an inter-squad (match), and I just thought those players are so amazing. They work so hard and I’m following in their footsteps. So hopefully I can achieve that.”

Xiao knows it won’t be easy. Competition is stiff for a spot on the full U.S. Women’s National Team, for a chance to play in the World Cup or Olympics. But a lot of time and work has gotten her this far. That, plus a love of soccer that’s evident watching her at a Westside practice. It’s easy to think that someone who has spent as much time doing anything as Xiao has spent playing soccer might be burned out. But there’s a constant smile on her face, and during a break, she’s juggling a ball and laughing with a teammate.

“(It’s) kind of what you noticed out there on the field, the love of the game and just wanting to be the best but also have fun at the same time,” Moseley said.

That’s what Moseley said has made Xiao an elite player. Next year she’s taking her game to Stanford University, where she will also take classes to prepare for another lofty goal, being a doctor. But Xiao says that is after soccer is over, and maybe after she’s lived her dream of playing for her country on the biggest stages in the world.

Because Xiao has been pretty good at making her goals, ever since she missed that wide open one 10 years ago. “I guess I just kept working, and I’m not going to miss those open goals again,” Xiao said.



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