After San Diego Wave FC’s game against Orlando Pride in April, the youngest National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) player, Melanie Barcenas, officially debuted, setting a historic record at just 15 years old.

In 2017, Barcenas’ mom told TIME, “‘This sports lifestyle is crazy . . . But they’re your kids. You do anything for them.’” The quote appeared in a paragraph in the September 4 cover story: “How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry.” 

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Barcenas was only nine years old then.

Since that story was published six years ago, she has become one of the youngest people to sign a Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) contract. And she has made her professional soccer debut at a history-making age.

Melanie Barcenas makes history with San Diego wave FC 

Barcenas made her professional, NWSL, and San Diego Wave FC debut on April 29. She replaced midfielder Belle Briede in the game.

At the same time, as she stepped onto the field, she instantly made history for a couple of reasons, including being the youngest player in San Diego Wave FC history and the league’s first local youth player signing.

But over one month earlier, Barcenas broke a similar yet more significant record. In March 2023, she officially became the youngest player in NWSL history.

A hometown debut

According to Barcenas’ bio on San Diego Wave FC’s website, she’s from Clairemont, a neighborhood in San Diego. 

And fittingly, it was under 10 miles away from her neighborhood, where Barcenas made her professional debut at Snapdragon Stadium.

Four days after the announcement of Barcenas signing, on Instagram, where she now has over 30,000 followers, she shared, “Dream come true and blessed to be part of the San Diego Wave Futbol Club and this amazing organization. I am extremely lucky to represent my hometown team here in San Diego.”

Barcenas joined San Diego Wave FC on the pitch during the second half of the game. There was a little less than 20 minutes left on the clock. By then, the score was already 3-1, favoring Florida’s Orlando Pride.

She entered during the 71-minute mark and played the rest of the game in her city. After the 90 minutes concluded, Barcenas played for almost six minutes of added time before the game ended with a loss for the San Diegan team. 

Still, people were impressed by the young soccer player on social media, even though Barcenas’ team was on the losing side. For example, on TikTok, people applauded Barcenas’ effort and entry into the NWSL in the comments across accounts like ESPNW.

@espnw She becomes the youngest player to make her #NWSL debut 👏 (via @nwslsoccer, @sandiegowavefc) #ThatsaW #soccer #womeninsports ♬ original sound – espnW

While on Instagram, “Although we did not get the result we wanted,” she thanked “everyone for all the support, love and positivity.”

Melanie Barcenas’ historic signing and new NWSL entry mechanisms 

San Diego Wave FC signed Barcenas through 2025 on a three-year contract. Her contract expires when she turns 18. 

That’s because of a condition in the new entry mechanism in the NWSL this year. Players under 18 years old “may not be waived or traded until the player has turned 18 or the team has received consent from both the player and parent or legal guardian,” according to NWSL.

But one day before the signing, the team announced the 2023 season’s roster. The list of forwards on the San Diego Wave roster featured six players, including Alex Morgan — who is part of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team — and Jaedyn Shaw. 

Then just one day later, San Diego Wave announced a seventh player would join the lineup of forwards. That day, Barcenas officially became a member of the club, in effect marking the start of her history-making career.

According to San Diego Wave, at a press conference in late 2021, Barcenas relayed, “‘Being from San Diego, I always looked forward to when the U.S. National Team players like Alex Morgan and Abby Dahlkemper would get to play here. Now, I get to cheer for them locally.'” 

Less than a year and a half later, now, as part of the San Diego Wave FC roster and having already made her professional debut, Barcenas has a chance to play alongside Morgan and Dahlkemper in what are likely still some of the most formative years in the young soccer players career.