Savannah DeMelo, as big a star as Cristiano Ronaldo in Southern California's Portuguese community

Few soccer debates spark stronger opinions than who's better, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?

Savannah DeMelo admits she's torn.

“I grew up watching Cristiano Ronaldo," she says. "I’m Portuguese, and he’s a god at our house. Obviously, as I got older, I played attacking mid, so Messi was a player I always thought was the best, did everything right, super creative, on the ball, off the ball, things like that.”

Support for Ronaldo is strong in the Portuguese community of Southern California, where DeMelo grew up. At the Artesia D.E.S. hall, the community center for local Portuguese-Americans, there's a giant portrait of Ronaldo.

Next to it is one of DeMelo playing with the U.S. U-20s.

DeMelo, who grew up nearby Bellflower, was the surprise selection of the USA's World Cup team, uncapped before being named to the 23-player squad, and a starter in its first two games at the 2023 Women's World Cup, but she had a long history with the U.S. women's program, playing for the U-20s at both the 2016 and 2018 World Cups.

Her father Robert is a Sporting supporter — for those wondering about the DeMelo family's Portuguese soccer allegiance — and played soccer in Portugal. He coached Savannah at Beach Futbol Club, one of Southern California's top youth programs, but she says he did not push her into soccer.

She was a gymnast until she was 8 and also tried volleyball and basketball. But the pull of soccer was strong.

"I loved the lifestyle of it," she said before heading to New Zealand. "I kind of grew up with my dad always watching soccer."

She praised her father for the positive influence he had,

"It’s sometimes hard to have a relationship with your dad," she said, "and he has to be a coach at the same time, but I think he perfected that. He was my first coach and he really gave me so much insight on what it is to not only be a soccer player but have the lifestyle of a soccer player. It’s not just about going to practice Monday, Wednesday. It’s about what you’re doing on the weekends, how you’re taking care of your body and the extra stuff you’re doing.”

DeMelo was supposed to start college in 2016, but she delayed her enrollment at USC until the spring of 2017 to play for the USA at the 2016 U-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea. She was drawing rave reviews with the U.S. U-23s before she tore her Achilles tendon in 2019.

"Tearing my Achilles was brutal,” she said. “You think you’re doing well and injuries always come at the worst time. Just being able to come back from that and get to a new level has been awesome. It kept me super-hungry to come back and not just come back the player I was, but even better."

It took a while to play at USC again. She red-shirted in 2019 and then the fall 2020 season was pushed back to the spring of 2021 because of the Covid shutdown.

"I think I have more of an appreciation for the game," she said, "because it was taken away from me for so long.”

It wasn't until 2022 that DeMelo turned pro, signing with Racing Louisville as the No. 4 pick in the NWSL SuperDraft. By now she was 23, but she quickly became one of the NWSL's top midfielders with four goals and two assists in her rookie season.

DeMelo took her game to another level in 2023, scoring eight goals in 14 games before getting the call from Coach Vlatko Andonovski  that he was taking her to the World Cup.

She knew she was on Andonovski's radar, getting texts from him and going over video clips with him. The injury to 2019 U.S. World Cup star Rose Lavelle that kept her out three months worked in DeMelo's favor of being taken as cover.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations," DeMelo said of her communications with Andonovski, "but one of the hardest things is making this team, so I was never super confident, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make it. I deserve to make it. It was, if it happened, I was super grateful for it, and I was just working hard to get there."

And when he called?

“It was surreal," she said. "Shocked. I was grateful. Excited."

DeMelo earned her first cap in the USA's 2-0 win over Wales in its send-off match and started the first two games at the World Cup as Andonovski slowly built up the minutes of Lavelle, who came on as a sub for DeMelo in both games.

The USA's performances in the 3-0 win over Vietnam and 1-1 tie with the Netherlands were underwhelming, but they still left the two-time defending champions in good shape to get out of their group for the ninth time in nine trips to the World Cup.

"I think the team is in a very good spot," DeMelo said on Saturday when she spoke at the USWNT's daily media briefing. "I think we are a very close team, so we really lean on each other and we're going to be honest with each other. I don't think we were very happy with our last performance and we're OK with that. I think we're just an honest group. But we're very hopeful and we know we're going to get the job done."

Standing in the USA's way on Tuesday (3 a.m. ET kickoff) is Portugal in their Group E finale, a match DeMelo's father wouldn't miss for the world.

"He's from Portugal," she says, "so he just thinks it's an honor to have me represent the U.S. but also being able to play such a quality opponent like Portugal, who made the World Cup for the first time, which is an awesome for them."

USA-Netherlands Photo: DeMelo in action against Dutch midfielder Jackie Groenen. Credit: Kerry Marshall/ISI Photos. Racing Louisville photos courtesy of Racing Louisville.

11 comments about "Savannah DeMelo, as big a star as Cristiano Ronaldo in Southern California's Portuguese community".
  1. R2 Dad, July 29, 2023 at 10:37 a.m.

    Surprised the Portuguese never approached her, especially since she was never capped until this year.

  2. Ric Fonseca replied, July 29, 2023 at 4:28 p.m.

    R2D2:  I wouldn't say "surprised" they didn't approach her, a "habit" that many counrtries employ.  However, tho I AM "suprised" that she is from a nearby city, as I never heard of her nor her dad's yough team/club.  And as y'all probly know, So Cal if replete-chock-full of youth girl and boy talent, given the population and humungous size of the greater L.A./Orange County area, the number of schools, parks/rec organizations, colleges/umiversities (including community colleges, private and public uniersities), etc.  And oh yeah, and HEY, wheveter happened to that Alianza group?  Did that go by the wayside and disappear - like so few or many other talent search groups?  Just asking!

  3. Kevin Leahy, July 29, 2023 at 2:50 p.m.

    Like the way she plays. Seems very savvy. Hope they continue to find minutes for her because she takes care of the ball.

  4. frank schoon, July 30, 2023 at 4:52 a.m.

    So now we have found another rising 'hope' to make our team stronger.  We have Macario, as a rising hope. What we overlook is that soccer is a team game, team tactics, concepts etc and hopefully we have an individual who we can be called upon to make that special difference. So many interpret our success or failure in game, as due to bad or unfavorable coach, bad tactics, someone wasn't chosen for the team, wrong tactics,etc.......

    We have to wake up and smell the coffee , for our problem is not this one thing here or that one thing there or this player  should have chosen, IT IS THE TOTAL PICTURE we have look at. Look at the Dutch team and see how they play which is soccer at a higher level. We instead rely on fight , turbo and some skill  and we lack the control, possession game. Other teams whose players have developed with a possession game and are skilled to deal with the ball under pressure and nullify the US game by not allowing the US have ball possession...'GAME OVER'.

    And what do we do, we complain about is so and so should have played or not have, or someone played bad or should have scored or this goal wasn't offsides or we complain the lack of ethnicity, blah, blah ,blah or whatever.  Instead of looking at the total picture that really tells us  our coaching sucks even if they are licensed and our player devopment is poor.

  5. david brown replied, July 31, 2023 at 2:55 p.m.

    Even at the highest levels in both DA now GA and ECNL that our daughter played, we had to get outside training/development.  "Certified" coaches spend most of their time working with favorites or coaches kids.  The "team" development is sadly lacking.

  6. Santiago 1314 replied, July 31, 2023 at 7:16 p.m.


  7. frank schoon replied, August 1, 2023 at 12:49 a.m.

    "Team development is sorely lacking"???  I would be happy if the youth had all the basic skills down. How 'bout being able to shoot ,dribble, cross and and receive ball with either foot under pressure.......These certified idiots have no real clue and certainly lack the skills to demonstrate but certainly know how to make money

  8. R2 Dad, July 30, 2023 at 10:34 a.m.

    If ball controls isn't required in tight spaces at U14, it won't be an option for coaches to exploit at U20. No, we'll see pressing and more turbo at younger and younger ages, as if choosing players who can negotiate tight spaces isn't available to US coaches. Thank you, USSF.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, July 30, 2023 at 11:09 a.m.

    Pressing is an important component of possession style play. It compresses the space that the opponent is allowed to play in, and is key to recovering possession of the ball. Don't diss pressing.

    The other point is that the classic Barca teams could play direct as well as anyone when the opportunity to score existed. The short 1-touch passing was not the end objective. It was an intermediate step to pull a defense apart horizontally leading to a breakout pass switching the attack to the weak side and to created open space in the final third. At that point the attack and finish was quick before the defense had time to recover their shape.

    If the defense recovered in time, then the process was repeated leading to another breakout pass after the defense was again pulled apart. The key is the breakout pass which is like a through pass if you think east-west too instead of just north-south.

  10. Ted Morehouse, July 31, 2023 at 8:12 p.m.

    As big a star as Renaldo, eh?  I think you are just a tad over the edge with that remark.  That may not even be true in her own family.  

  11. Greedy Striker, July 31, 2023 at 11:23 p.m.

    Frank must get paid by SA! Perhaps by the word. Hilarious!

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