Brazilian born, Rebel bred: Ole Miss star Souza makes World Cup team
The Women’s World Cup begins June 6th in Canada with 24 teams vying for the biggest prize in women’s soccer–and one of the teams now has an Ole Miss Rebel on its roster!
A veritable “who’s who” of women’s soccer will be on hand to compete for the World Cup, including USA’s Alex Morgan, Germany’s Nadine Angerer, Brazil’s Marta AND former Ole Miss star Rafaelle Souza.
Souza will play on Brazil’s national team, As Canarinhas (translated from Portuguese as “The Canaries,” one of the team’s several nicknames). “Rafa,” as she is affectionately known, is Brazilian born, but Rebel bred!
Rafa’s early years
Rafaelle Leone Carvalho Souza was born in Salvador, Brazil, a coastal town in the northeast part of the country. It is the third largest city in Brazil in terms of population and is the capital of the state of Bahia.
Famous people from this city include supermodel Adriana Lima; Bayern Munich defender & member of Brazil’s mens national team Dante; mixed martial artists Lyoto Machida and Junior Dos Santos; and, race car driver Tony Kanaan.
Rafa attended Centro Federal de Educacao Tecnologica de Bahia for high school, one of the largest high schools in the city. While a member of the school’s soccer team from 2007-2010, her team won the Bahia State Championship every year, part of consecutive titles from 2001-2012.
Souza also played for the U17 and U20 Brazil National Teams, scoring a goal in the U17 World Cup in New Zealand and in the U20 World Cup in Germany. Before transferring to Ole Miss, Souza attended Universidade Do Estado Da Bahia and played club soccer for Sao Francisco do Conde Futebol Clube.
It’s a long way from Brazil to Oxford
So how did a girl from Salvador, Brazil end up in Oxford, Mississippi? The Rebel Walk recently asked Ole Miss women’s soccer coach Matt Mott just how Rafa became a Rebel.
Coach Mott recalled the process:
I have a friend at a Division II school who had a Brazilian player on the team and knew Rafa. He knew she wanted to come to the United States, but the school didn’t have engineering, which is what she wanted to study. He called me about her, and we started to work with her. She was very motivated to come. She took a 24-hour flight for a two-day visit. The flights were longer than the visit, but she loved it and we worked it out for her to come play here.
“She didn’t speak English very well when she got here,” Mott continued. “She took intensive English courses over the summer when she got here and picked it up quickly. She’s such a bright person. She used to joke with the team that if anyone asked a question she didn’t want to answer, she would laugh and say ‘I don’t speak English.’ She was quite a character.”
Rafa’s impact in Oxford was almost immediate. Her first year (2011), she led the team with 9 goals, 7 assists, and 25 points in 16 games played (14 starts). 2012 was the true beginning of her stride, as she started all 22 games and led the SEC in goals with 13 goals and 33 points. She was an All-SEC Second Team selection and NSCAA All-South 1st Team Selection.
In 2013, her final season with the Rebels, Rafa led the SEC in points (50) and tied for the SEC lead in goals with 22.
She was an All-SEC First Team selection, along with being named NSCAA All-Regional First Team and All-American Second Team, and was a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy (National Player of the Year) while helping to lead Ole Miss to an NCAA tournament appearance, scoring a hat trick against Jackson State in the 1st round. She would also earn call-ups with Brazil’s senior women’s team in 2012 & 2013.
Even more impressive than her performances on the field is the fact that Rafa was named SEC Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2012, SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2013, and Academic All-American–while majoring in civil engineering.
“There were a lot of memories because she was so good and scored so many important goals,” reflected Mott:
In the SEC Tournament her sophomore season (2012), she scored on LSU in the last minute of the game on a ridiculous angle from the left side to beat them, 1-0, for us to advance. She also had a header against Alabama (2013) in a double overtime game to clinch a fourthplace finish in the SEC, a bye in the SEC Tournament and really help secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Drafted by the pros
Souza was drafted in the second round of the NWSL Draft (10th overall) by the expansion Houston Dash in 2014. She made 12 appearances and tallied 1 assist 0n the season. This may not seem like a lot, but the assist was on a game-tying goal against the Boston Breakers. Souza would then draw a penalty late against Boston, which led to a game-winning goal and the first win in franchise history.
Rafa’s season was difficult, as she was finishing up her studies at Ole Miss while training when she could with the team until graduation. She was released by Houston at the end of the year but was picked up by FC Kansas City. However, she will not be suiting up for FC Kansas City this year but will compete, instead, in the pinnacle of soccer competition–the World Cup.
Rafa’s road to the Women’s World Cup
At the end of last year, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) announced a decision to have its women’s players enter a residency program. Souza was one of 27 Brazilian players to be selected for the program, funded in part by money from hosting last year’s World Cup.
The players have been training at the national team’s training center and earn a stipend for living expenses. The goal has been to better prepare the team for the upcoming Women’s World Cup and the Summer Olympics in 2016, hosted by Rio de Janeiro in Souza’s home country. The hope is that the players will be better developed, especially the young players, with this enhanced training.
When Souza did not make the Brazilian roster for the prestigious Algarve Cup tournament–held two months ago in Portugal–she still had a small chance of making it on the 2015 Women’s World Cup team or next year’s Olympic team, with a World Cup spot being less likely. But as has been the case throughout her career, Rafa’s hard work and dedication paid off and she earned a position on the World Cup team.
Training on the world stage with such established players as her teammates Marta and Bia will definitely help Rafa continue to develop. And certainly, the experiences she had while starring at Ole Miss will always hold a place in Rafa’s heart, both on and off the pitch.
Hotty Toddy to Rafa!
How to keep up with our Rebel in the World Cup!
Click here to follow Rafa’s team and all the action in the Women’s World Cup which gets underway June 6 in Canada.
Special thanks: Thank you to Bill Bunting, Associate Media Relations Director at Ole Miss, for facilitating the interview with Coach Matt Mott. Thank you to Joshua McCoy of Ole Miss Athletics for permission to use all his pictures of Rafa Souza in this article.
Originally from Memphis, TN, Joel moved to Houston in 2003 and fell in love with the sports scene. He loves all sports and has covered everything from hot dog eating contests to bowl games. He is a proud member of the Football Writer’s Association of America.