Linda Caicedo conquered cancer, now soccer is next

The Colombian winger enjoyed a World Cup breakout this summer, winning the tournament’s best goal award.


Spain and former “Rising Ballers” star Salma Paralluelo may have won the World Cup, but the tournament’s best story belonged to Colombia and Linda Caicedo. 

Since you can read headlines, you already know the 18-year-old Caicedo has beat cancer in her young life. At 15, doctors diagnosed her with ovarian cancer. Her former youth coach Jhon Alber Ortiz Arce worried she’d never play again — and it would’ve been reasonable for her to step away from the game, even as a survivor. 

But as Ortiz Arce told NPR, “She survived through her faith and determination, something that shows the kind of character she has.”

Caicedo undoubtedly displayed that high character this summer in Australia and New Zealand. 

Despite her youth, Caicedo helped Colombia reach the country’s first-ever Women’s World Cup quarterfinal with two goals and an assist in five matches. Caicedo was the youngest player with three or more goal contributions in the tournament. 

Caicedo didn’t just score a couple of standard goals, either. She won the Hyundai Goal of the Tournament award for her shifty finish against traditional powerhouse Germany. 

The award-winning goal, which effectively ruined Germany’s tournament aspirations, epitomizes Caicedo’s game. 

As a right-footed left-winger, Caicedo wanted to cut inside and test the keeper with frequency, averaging 1.6 shots per game during the World Cup. That’s not quite an elite figure — Caicedo’s Real Madrid teammate Caroline Weir averages about 3.5 shots per match in league play — but it’s a strong foundation on which to build. 

More importantly, Caicedo finishes clinically when she does have a shooting opportunity. Her conversion ratio of 0.25 goals per shot — ninth-best in the tournament for players with at least 5 shots — should encourage Colombia and Real Madrid fans.

Her close-touch dribbling style helps enable her opportunistic finishing, which was also on display against Germany. For the goal in question, Caicedo collected the ball in the box off a rebound, and immediately two German defenders swarmed to the Colombian, seemingly blocking her path to goal.

But Caicedo remained calm and patient, letting the ball just slightly roll towards the goal line while constantly adjusting her feet and body position to stay in control. The moment the German players became disconnected in their press, with one over-committing towards Caicedo’s back, she stepped quickly into the gap and unleashed a snapshot with her right foot into the top corner.

The keeper never had a chance to save it, and the goal displayed a maturity and composure beyond Caicedo’s years. 

Perhaps that has something to do with her killer instinct. In the same NPR interview, the hosts play an interview from when Caicedo was just 14, playing in a South American youth tournament. The interviewer asked Caicedo if she was excited to make friends from other countries, to which Caicedo replied, “No. We didn’t come here to make friends. We came here to focus on our objective.”

If Caicedo had that mentality at 14, I wouldn’t want to play her now, at 24, or as a wise, 34-year-old veteran.

Beyond the international level with Colombia, Caicedo has an exciting opportunity to be Real Madrid Femenino’s first true icon.

In women’s football, Real Madrid lagged behind its rivals Barcelona in forming a team, and despite the club’s considerable resources, Los Merengues have yet to overcome the Blaugrana’s head start. 

While Barça professionalized its women’s side in 2015, Real Madrid didn’t have a soccer team of its own until the 2020-21 season. They purchased an existing Madrid-based women’s team previously called CD Tacón to gain immediate access to Spain’s top division. 

Despite skipping the line somewhat to the top of Spanish football, Barcelona Femení has thus far blocked Real Madrid’s path to the title, winning the last four titles. 

But Caicedo may be the player that puts Real Madrid over the edge. 

Just two matches into the season, Real Madrid and Barcelona had identical records. Both clubs have won two matches, each by scores of 2-1 and 2-0. Last season, Real Madrid lost the league by 10 points (and Barcelona nearly doubled Madrid’s goal difference), but it’s possible that Real Madrid has narrowed the gap.

If Real Madrid’s success continues, Caicedo will play a key role. From a statistical perspective, Caicedo has some similarities with Vinícius Júnior on the club’s men’s team. Like Vini Jr., Caicedo has elite dribbling numbers, in the 97th percentile for progressive carries per 90 and the 99th for successful take-ons per 90 (numbers according to FBref). 

Also like her Los Blancos counterpart, Caicedo assists her teammates’ goals frequently – about once every other game going back to last season. In 11 starts and 13 total appearances in Liga F, Caicedo has five assists, plus two goals for good measure. 

Caicedo may have an even higher ceiling as a goalscorer than Vini Jr., too. During his first three seasons in Madrid, the Brazilian was an unpolished goalscorer, but as he gained confidence, he became a go-to scorer. As seen at the World Cup, Caicedo already has decisive and confident finishing, so scoring more simply requires earning more shots, which she almost certainly will. 

Liga F fans should be salivating at the thought of Caicedo going head-to-head with Paralluelo’s Barcelona in the coming seasons. Considering the women’s teams can already pack in 90,000-plus fans for an El Clásico, these matches will be a battle for the heart and soul of Spanish soccer. Paralluelo may be riding the post-World Cup high and infamy, but don’t count out Caicedo. 

First, she conquered cancer. Now, she’s coming for Barcelona and the rest of Europe. 

Jack Hallinan is a junior writing about the top wunderkinds in men’s and women’s soccer in his column, “Rising Ballers,” which runs every other Thursday. 

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