Christina Murillo attended University of Michigan where she played on the Women’s Soccer Team as a midfielder and center back. In 2014, she chose to start training full-time with the Mexican Women’s National Team where she went on to compete in the Women’s World Cup. As a player that has gone to the World Cup 3 separate times, Murillo’s skills and mental game are impeccable. Later she went on to play for the Chicago Red Stars from 2018 to 2019. Now, as a director for the Chicago Fire Girls program, she spends her time coaching the sport she found so much passion and success in.
Christina Murillo: Chicago Fire Juniors Girls Program Director
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Topic 1: National Team / World Cup Experience:
Christina’s first camp experience was exceptionally challenging as she began her career not being able to speak Spanish. At the U17 World Cup, Christina played her favorite position as a central midfielder. As Christina continued her career to the full Mexico Women’s National Team, the coaching staff transitioned her to play as a center back. Christina discusses how the challenge taught her that she was able to push herself both physically and mentally past barriers that she previously thought she had.
Topic 2: Club Support in Recruiting Process:
Christina was given support early on about how the process would look, resulting in her making it a habit to send out emails to coaches. She believes a huge factor in her recruitment and commitment to the University of Michigan was being on a solid club team and having her teammates also attracting high-level collegiate programs. Another tip that Christina gave was to physically go and visit various campuses to see where you will fit in and can visualize yourself. Additionally, Murillo discussed how the academic integrity of her university played an integral role in her choice for selecting a school to attend more so than the hopeful success of the soccer program.
Topic 3: Mental Toughness:
Murillo discusses how mental toughness played a role in her success as she reminisced on the challenging fitness tests that she endured as a player. She even stated that she directly attributes her success as a player to her ability to be mentally tough in challenging circumstances. Growing up, her relationship with her older brother aided in her need to be mentally tough and push through a nagging older brother figure.
Topic 4: Staying in Shape:
Murillo talks about how it is important to stay in shape mentally, especially during the time of COVID-19. Each week, she checks in with the athletes that she coaches. Her and her staff send out game footage for athletes to watch to stay as engaged with the sport as they can. She talks about the importance of athletes not pressuring themselves into being too “ultimate” during these times with limited resources and capabilities. Her advice is to get into the best routine that you can and to practice plyometric training to keep your muscles and ligaments used to familiar soccer movements.
Topic 5: Mount Rushmore:
Murillo’s favorite player is Mia Hamm due to her competitive spirit and small stature. She also said that Pele was an inspiration to her growing up and would always use him for school projects. Rafael Marquez is another influential player to her as he is one of the most prolific and talented center backs for the Mexican Men’s National team. She described how his strengths as a leader and weaknesses in pace align well with hers. Lastly, she described how her fiance, who is a goalkeeper for Sporting Kansas City, is a soccer player that she admires and respects.
Topic 6: Best Atmosphere:
Christina has played games all over the world and lets just says she narrowed down her top places to play and why. For the Senior Mexican National Team, at StubHub Center in Los Angeles, CA against the USWNT in 2015. She also prefers to play in 105 degree Fahrenheit weather over 35 degree weather due to the stress placed on muscles and movements in the cold.
Christina's years of experience and accomplishments surely speak for themselves and truly portray her passion and knowledge of soccer. As a coach now, her perspective has shifted towards her players. Surely this isn't the last time we'll see Coach Murillo. Tune in next for more stories and advice!
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Thanks for joining us for another edition of exact club experts. Today we are joined by Christina Morello, the girls program coordinator for the Chicago Fire juniors. It was awesome to chat with Christina and hear about her experiences playing professionally and in the World Cup for the Mexican national team. She gave us some advice on how club Connect as a platform for playing collegiate and we also learned about the importance of mental toughness and and how it has helped Christina throughout each stage of her career. You can check out the entire conversation at our blog, exact sports comm slash blog or on our social platforms, Instagram or Twitter with the tech Adams exports and our Facebook page exact soccer. I'm excited to share it with you guys and I hope you enjoy. All right, Christina, thank you for coming on and sharing some insight on the club club soccer background here. Let's get right into and talk a little bit more about your background. Starting from your amazing Playing career and then kind of getting into what inspired you to start coaching.
Yeah, so I I started playing soccer at an AAS level when I was around four or five years old. From there, I think I started club soccer around eight or nine years old. I played club soccer all the way through high school. I actually played on a semi pro team, my senior well with club soccer, so that was a lot. And then I went to college for four years, but within that, four years, I competed for the under 20 and full women's national or for Women's World Cup. So my freshman year, my second semester off to compete in the under 20 World Cup and then my what would have been my senior year I took off a whole year to compete in the World Cup. There were some obstacles here and there. So it's actually took an 18 month hiatus. After I completed my college career, and then I ended up playing in Lithuania randomly for Champions League when I returned. And then soon after, I went and tried out for the red stars played for the reserves for a bit, and then eventually got signed. And then at that point while I was playing for red stars, I was also working for Chicago Fire. So that's, that's about where it leads me up to this point where I'm the coach right now.
All right. Okay, so you've had quite the journey. And, you know, obviously, we can't we can't not talk about the World Cup experience that you had planned for your country. So can you give us a little bit more background on that and what it meant for you to play for the Mexican national team?
Yeah, so, um, I had I had a pretty interesting experience because when I first started with the Mexican national team, I didn't know Spanish I didn't, I wasn't really familiar with the culture even though my parents were born there. My dad grew up in Mexico had all those cultural customs. I wasn't familiar with a lot of them. So it was a really really huge culture shock for me when I started playing with them. It's a very different style of play. And again, just customs very different. So my first camp really, really hard but the coaches were really nice. And my world cup experiences were different the youth ones versus the the full ones under 17th. I think I felt my best my most confident I was playing as a as a center mid and then under 20s. I actually transition from the center mid to center back and I don't love playing center back because it's it's a really difficult position. If you make a mistake, it's pretty bad. So that was that was difficult mentally and then in the fall. Women's World Cup I obviously competed as a centre back the whole time that that World Cup training year, probably the most difficult year of my life. And, you know, I've obviously had a lot of time to reflect on it. But it's not easy to basically spend 90% of a whole year in camp, like in one area, seeing the same people every single day. You're, it almost feels like all the days are melting together. It's it's a lot, both physically and mentally think the hardest and God is when we were doing three days. So we'd wake up at 530 in the morning and go for like an hour run and still do exercises and we had that second and third training. So it wasn't the national experience I was expecting but I'm really really happy now that I went through it because it shows like what physically and mentally I'm able to go through. I don't know if I'd want to go through that again, because it is a very high stakes thing. And I think for any national team, it's it's gonna be hard people are competing for a spot. But it certainly wasn't easy.
Yeah, I can't imagine. I mean, it's not something many people can say. I mean, I'm, you know, looking here, you're the first you have them, you know, player to ever play in a national team. So, and I know Michigan's got a very high. I love a program. So it's an amazing accomplishment. And obviously you have stories to tell from it. And you know, like you said, it's something that will improve on your mental toughness going on and we'll talk a little bit more about that and what that means to, you know, athletics today, but it's still an amazing thing to tell them you know, it's appreciate you sharing some you know, you experience on that. Let's talk about the club side for a little bit. Now you played growing up in California for a small club. And now you're, you're the program coordinator for large club here in Chicago. But obviously, you went on to play at a high level in college. And that's what a lot of our players want to do. They want to go on and play at the college level. And I think the club is kind of a support system that players can use to really leverage, you know, where they want to play. So he talked a little bit more about how a club not just your club, but any club in particular can be kind of as a support system for a player.
I think what was really helpful was we got tools early on on terms of like how the recruitment process was going to work. So something that I was told was just to send emails even if coaches can't respond to them. I think I spent about 2030 emails my freshman year of high school and I I may have lied a bit, but I told these schools like your top three schools, there's a school and I would put in a detail and like actually know about the school. And I would, I would get obviously response saying we can't respond officially, but we have your eye on you all of that stuff. And I think what really helped was like understanding that you never know when somebody is going to be watching. I think a huge factor to at least every one of my teammates and myself committed to a D one school, which is really, really difficult. And I think one of the key factors was one of my teammates like Courtney. She actually played for the youth Canadian system. And when she came over, it seemed like all of these coaches just started like coming around and watching and it led to me actually playing for the under 15 us youth pool because they were looking at her And I had no idea because I hadn't made the ODBC team. So they were looking at her and then they saw me. So obviously being in that youth pool as well just brought all the college coaches looking at me. And then they're also looking at, you know, the players around me. So I think just understanding that you never know when somebody is going to be watching and even if it's not the person watching, they will maybe tell another coach, hey, this is the sort of player that you want at your at your university. But I think just just the reaching out part, and being proactive. My parents didn't help me at all whatsoever in my college recruiting process, they, they said if you want to do it, it's on you. But I was the one that had to initiate all the phone calls. And I was the one that was gonna figure out what I thought my scholarships could be. But I think just just being proactive and definitely, what are Coaches at the club really told us like you need to visit the university. So if you have the resources to I thought Santa Clara was my number one choice because it is an amazing women's program. But I went there and I did not like it at all. I didn't want to go to a small liberal liberal arts school. I know a lot. That is what some people want to do. But I said, That's not for me. I also visited University of Texas. That was that was another school I wanted to go to and I just said, not for me. As soon as I stepped on the Michigan campus, though, I was like, This is the school. So being proactive, reaching out and seeing what schools you can go and see.
Yeah, absolutely. There's, you know, there's obviously a lot of choices out there. And I think, especially when we're at such a young age, we really don't know what we want. So obviously being on campus, seeing everything in person. It helps put things in perspective. I guess it kind of leads into our next question. Now. This is easy. guidance changed it a little bit at the girls level, but committing to a school at 1415 years old, that was the norm, you know, five, six years ago and, and like I said, things have changed on the rural side. But, you know, advice for a player, especially on the girls side that you know, is talking or at least trying to figure out where they want to go to school. You know, can you give some more insight on when they should be committing to schools and how that is, you know, we should speed up the process, I guess too much.
I mean, I definitely agree that we should be be trying to slow down the process. If I'm going to be perfectly honest, I was really ignorant to how good of a school Michigan was. I know that I had definitely a lot of like things that I wasn't going to be okay with in terms of the university. But the one of the last things interestingly enough that I cared about was like, I didn't need to see the women's soccer team going to the NCAA Tournament every year, or at least I didn't need to be told by the coach like, oh, we're going to go to the NCAA tournament, because that changes so much. It really mattered academically and the stuff around soccer because I think a lot of people want to become a student athlete, they might decide that that's not for them. And that was, that was a fear of mine. But in terms of deciding, I mean, I every every person is going to be different. What I liked about the school that I picked was that it had almost every single major. So if I wasn't entirely sure of what I wanted to study, if I changed it in college, I was able to do that, but I certainly wouldn't recommend somebody trying to do it before sophomore year, but I know that obviously, sometimes it's just not within your like it's not really your choice, unfortunately. But I would, I would definitely try to stay towards like sophomore junior year.
Yeah, that makes sense, the way you put it, I mean, the soccer, it can change year to year from the coaches, the players. But the school is always going to have those consistent features, you know, starting with your academics and in the environment, those things aren't going to change. Like you said, Maybe if you're not playing for a year or something happens, you're still going to be in an environment that you can't succeed. And I think that's kind of the biggest takeaway that we have at our campuses, you know, you start with the academic side, look at the school, and then you know, then consider the soccer because again, things can change within, you know, from an injury that might happen. It could all just kind of be, you know, just on the school side of it. So that's a good way to look at it. So earlier we talked about mental toughness, and I think that that is getting a lot more regular condition sports, especially on the women's side. Can you talk about a little bit more about how a strong mental game can take a player to the next level?
I think it's, I think it's the biggest difference in you. being successful as as an athlete, there's no way that you can be a top athlete without having an incredible amount of mental toughness. When you went to college and you take fitness tests. It is more than you being fit it is just about completing that test. And it is a difference between you running for 30 seconds or just stopping. I think I attribute most of my success to mental toughness, but I think that had a lot to do with my environment. I had an older brother, who, you know, I would you won't love me saying this, but that was pretty tough on me. I think jealous at the time that I was a pretty talented player. But actually drove me to want to be better and you know, sometimes be like you're a horrible soccer player. And I was just like, I'm going to be so good. I'm gonna do so well in the sport that I'm going to know that you're wrong. And and I've actually had a few conversations with my mom because I was not too happy that my mom wouldn't come over and be like, when I would get hurt, she wouldn't come over and immediately asked me if I'm okay. She would say like, Do you need anything like she was very, like straight face whenever I would get hurt or whenever I look tired, and asked her why, why she would do then she's like, why why would I need a call to you? Like, if you're actually hurt, like, you need to figure that out. So I think I think my environment it's, it's, I think when you're doing physical fitness, yes, you're training your body, but like you have to rip the band aid off when you're when you're running like yours. No way. Even when you think you have this threshold of way. Your fitness should be that's that's you need to try to break that like almost every time when you're training otherwise there's just no way you're gonna compete I, I always envision like my biggest competitors which unfortunately would be like Abby won back Alex Morgan I know that they were doing 100 times more so I have to make sure that I'm doing the things that like give me my strengths at least compete with these these athletes so yeah I there's there's just there's no way that you can be a competitor or just be successful in life without having mental toughness.
Yeah, you're not able to do three days and probably the sweltering heat if you're not mentally tough. And I, I think that's the biggest difference with athletes that are trying to play at the next level. You know, they're, you know, you got girls and players at 1011 years old, they're the best on the field. They don't need to be mentally tough because physically they're just better and then when they Get out to high school and into the higher levels of Academy play. Everyone's more at an even playing field. And it's you know, dealing with those failures and not always succeeding, though those are what really gets you to the next level. So it's good to hear that you've obviously gone through a lot of that. And it's kind of gotten you to where you're at today. So that's cool to hear. All right, well, we'll end this these questions with kind of what's going on in the current times, obviously, right now, when I feel the other players, we're trying to find new ways to engage with our athletes, whether it be the zoom calls, or daily fitness routines, or whatever it might be to keep us involved with the game. Can you talk a little bit more about what you're doing with your club, to keep everybody involved and you know, not just mentally, physically but mentally?
Yeah, so I'm, I'm really like big on mental health. So I think right now it's a hard time for Everybody, but what I've liked most is just having like virtual meetings every week and just, you know, talking, talking to my players and just seeing how everyone's doing. We we try, we send out videos of like games, because right now thankfully, people have uploaded a lot of full games. And if they have the time, then it's great. But if they don't, then that's okay. I know this is not like exactly what players should be doing. But, again, identity, I think it's about mental health. So I don't think players should pressure themselves to be this ultimate version of themselves. If they can just get into a routine. That's not easy. But like if they can get into a routine and then surely, if they can add more and more each week, that's great, but I think it's it's what we shouldn't be doing right now. putting our expectations like we have to be the super human, when we come out of this because we have this time, if you can have a routine and like come out of this and like the I guess the only big thing that at least for me that I would would want my players to do and what what hopefully we can do soon as just plyometric training, just making sure like muscles are activated, because when you get back out onto the turf, or the grass cutting and all that it's going to be pretty unfamiliar. So that's just, that's my concern is just the safety aspect. And then just making sure that we have a routine because this is all really unfamiliar to us right now.
Yeah, there's no playbook for this. So we're all trying to you know, everyone's has a different way around it. But like you said, I think the routine is the big thing because we need to be accountable for for what we're doing, to try to improve and if we're not accountable for our actions, Just kind of taking it day by day. It's easy to kind of get off course so you know I think that's probably the best way around and hopefully we won't have to do it too much longer because obviously it's you know it's not easy to stay you know to not be with our teams to not have guidance from our coaches so yeah, hopefully things will start looking up soon All right, Christie will end and this this video interview with some fun questions get to know you a little better. I didn't prepare you this these for these ones. So I'm gonna put you on the spot and see what you think here. First question is you've played in some really cool environments obviously played at a high level in college play for the play the World Cup, but if you were asked to choose the coolest environment you've ever played in coolest atmosphere, play or coach then what would it be?
Whoo, that's a hard one. Um, I'll say coolest, but definitely not the best memory I have. But coolest environment was a game that we played against the US. And I believe it was in Los Angeles and StubHub Center. We were playing against the US women's national team. And obviously right before the World Cup, the US women's national team has loads of fans, I'm sure about 20 30,000 people. So this was back in 2015. I definitely would think that was the coolest, but we got booze and stuff when we were making any passes, which didn't happen that much in that game. But when we did, we would we would get booed. But it was it was an amazing experience to to be in that stadium with that many people.
Yeah, that's it doesn't get much higher, higher stakes in that. So that's it that my top the list of best environments that we've had on this show here. All right, next question. If you were to choose any Temperature play, would it be 105 degrees or 35 degrees?
So I played in 2625 degree weather and certainly I think when I played in Trinidad It was 105 I think I'd rather play in the warmer weather because when it gets to colder weather your body just really like you can't physically like do the movements or like the field, the pitch doesn't allow you to do the things that you normally would. At 105 degrees your body is warm you can do if you properly hydrated, so yeah, I think I just for being able to just do what I want to like physically, I would definitely go for the warmer weather.
Okay. Yeah, I was interested to see how you'd answer that one because we've, you know, I know you played at Michigan, so you've definitely dealt with the colder weather. But at the same time, I'm sure played in some, some warmer climates as well being from California Mexican national team. So yeah, it's always interesting to see how coaches answer that question. I base it based on where, where they're from. So, me I'm a Midwest guy. I'm a Chicago guy. I'm definitely I'm definitely planning that 35 degree egg. Yeah. All right. Last question here. We've been asked to coaches their Mount Rushmore of soccer players. So your top four on the list could be players he played with players that you maybe idolize over the years
that's that's a it's really difficult because I'm not the most informed on soccer players. So my answers might not be going to be pretty basic but me and him obviously would would be my number one I liked her and seeing her compete in the 99 world cup and I thought the coolest thing because I was actually a fairly short player up until eighth grade she's only like five one and she was this amazing athlete like you would not know that she was of that stature with how she competed so me and him um I guess the I did all of my school reports on Play growing up his top soccer player is the reason why like there's this amazing sound Brazil so play would be the second one. The third one would be Rafa Marquez, because I like that he's not the fastest center back which is me. I'm gonna fast center back but because of how he is vocal and a leader on the field. He He's one of the best center backs that Mexico's had and he's he's not fast. And my fourth one would be my friend. fiance, so my fiance plays for sporting KC, his name is Richard Sanchez. He won the World Cup at the under 17 level. And he's the only American citizen actually at this point to win a World Cup. And I think that's pretty cool. So he would he would definitely be on that list.
That is cool. Maybe left to get in line and tell that story. that's a that's a pretty, it's a pretty cool thing to talk about. All right, Christina. Well, unless you have any other advice for our athletes that are that are staying at home right now. And you know, not on the field. We appreciate you coming on and sharing your stories. And, you know, hopefully we'll see a field soon.
Yeah, I think I think the only thing I would advise or tell players right now, and what I was told is never going to have more energy than you do today. So thank you for having me.
Absolutely. It's good thing to live by. I really appreciate it and I will talk to you again soon. Thanks. That's all for our conversation today. Thanks again to Christina Morello for coming on. Coming up on exam club experts will be getting more insight from coaches and hopefully getting your answers or questions answered. That's all for conversation today. Thanks again and coach Christina for coming on. Coming up on exact club experts will be talking to more coaches and hopefully getting your questions answered as we all are waiting to get back on the field. Again to senior writer interviews, please go to our website and read our blog and Zack sports comm slash blog and our Instagram or Twitter pages at exact sports and Facebook is exam soccer. Hope to catch you all again soon.
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