There are 897 miles between Athens, Georgia, and Cleburne, Texas. But for Dani Murguia, the journey to stardom on the Georgia soccer team has been longer than that.
Murguia spent 16 hours a week traveling more than 650 miles to and from practice. It cut into the amount of time she had with her father, and it even required her mother to quit her job.
Georgia soccer’s season comes to an end Oct. 25, but the freshman’s collegiate career is just getting started. It’s a career that is possible only because of the Murguias’ sacrifices.
But Murguia and her family will tell you it was all worth it.
Love at first kick
Murguia was born the youngest of Elizabeth and Onofre Murguia’s four children. Raised in Cleburne, Texas, soccer was all around her. With two Major League Soccer clubs in the state, as well as a huge Mexican “fútbol” fan base, Texas is a hot bed for soccer.
At home, her parents Elizabeth and Onofre raised her to love it, but it was through her father that she fell in love with the game.
“He influenced me a lot,” Murguia said. “He was always my little league soccer coach, and he would help me with my shooting and dribbling outside of practice.”
Murguia began her soccer journey at a very young age. Her first memory of a ball at her feet was when she was 4 years old.
“I was on this co-ed team and I just remember dribbling and then tripping and falling,” she said.
It didn’t take long for the stumbling youngster to develop into one of the best players in the area, and by the time she was 12, Murguia was a star player for her local team, the Dallas Texans.
But it soon became apparent that her team couldn’t offer her the exposure and coaching she needed.
Sacrificing for a bigger stage
For many soccer recruits, playing with a big club is the only way to be seen by major college programs, and Murguia needed a bigger stage. That season, she got the chance she’d been looking for.
"The first time I saw her on the field before she was on our team, she destroyed us."
- Matt Grubb, F.C. Dallas youth coach
Murguia and the Texans played a midweek match against Texas soccer heavyweights F.C. Dallas, the youth development team for the professional MLS team of the same name. It was there that Dani first caught the eye of F.C. Dallas coach Matt Grubb.
“The first time I saw her on the field before she was on our team, she destroyed us,” Grubb said. “I saw this fiery Hispanic kid running around, and she made an absolute difference in the game.”
Murguia wasn’t the only one who left an impression. She remembers the meeting as well as Grubb does.
“The entire time, I just remember him yelling ‘Get on 9, get on No. 9,’ which was my number on my old team. We scored, and he was yelling his head off,” Murguia recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘This man is insane,’ and a week later we got a phone call from him.”
Grubb offered her a place on the team, but there was a problem: Murguia’s house in Cleburne was nearly two hours away from the team’s training facilities in Frisco. That would mean significant time on the road, and her family would have to sacrifice more than they originally thought. But the opportunity to play in one of the most competitive leagues in the country was too good to pass up.
“She knew the obligation,” her mother Elizabeth Murguia said. “She knew she was going to miss out on a lot of social events here in Cleburne, but she was OK with that. I think that mentally prepared her for where she is now.”
Her father worked in Midland, Texas, several hours away, and the family decided not to move so Murguia could play with F.C Dallas. The burden of taking Murguia to Frisco fell squarely on her mother. She drove over 16 hours a week during the season, going to and from games and practices.
Most of the practices were at 6 p.m., so she would pick her daughter up from school at 4 p.m. and head straight to practice. Most nights they hoped to make it back home by 11 p.m.
“It was very tedious, but being able to play soccer on the best team in the area was worth it,” Murguia said.
The trips were tough on the family, and they added to Murguia’s already demanding schedule. She would spend many of the long hours on Highway 121 doing homework to keep up in class and grabbing a few minutes of sleep when she could.
Murguia and her family continued on like this until it finally became too much of a burden on her mother. She constantly had to ask to get off of work early to make the trips. Working a job and raising a child largely on her own was becoming too much of a burden. After one season, she decided she couldn’t do both.
“We made the decision that I couldn’t keep working,” Elizabeth Murguia said. “It’s a [long] commute, and I [still] made her home-cooked meals and took care of her.”
Her mother’s sacrifice allowed Murguia to continue pursuing her dreams of playing soccer. Losing a source of income was hard on the family, but her mother still believes it was the best thing to do.
“It was just her and I for four years. My husband and I sacrificed and lived apart just so she could continue her soccer,” Elizabeth Murguia said. “It was a good decision. I never regretted it.”
Practice pays off
Murguia continued to develop at F.C. Dallas throughout high school, and then, all of her family’s sacrifice paid off her senior year when Georgia head coach Billy Lesesne came calling.
He knew immediately that Murguia could bring something to the Bulldogs that no one else could.
“Her final pass is what attracted us,” Lesesne said. “She’s not a stagnant player. She moves well with the ball and her creative sense is something we didn’t have [before].”
After just one visit to Athens, Murguia decided Georgia was where she wanted to be. Her hard work along with her family’s sacrifice had led her to her new home.
“Before I even met the team I knew they were like a family and I was really drawn to that,” Murguia said. “Even though this was far away from home it still felt like another home to me.”
On Sept. 23, Murgia and the Bulldogs traveled to College Station, Texas, for a match against Texas A&M. It was the first time she had returned to the Lone Star State since leaving for college, as well as the first chance for much of her family to see her wear the red and black in person.
“It was really special,” Murguia said. “Coming from out of state, my family doesn’t get to be there at the game. But being able to hear them really motivated me.”
Though the Bulldogs lost to the Aggies 2-0, the match was a homecoming that the Murguia’s will never forget.
“It’s a commitment, it really has been,” Elizabeth Murguia said. “But to see the amazing young lady that we have, and to see how happy she is, it was so worth it.”