Maz Pacheco interview: Reds defender roaming with a homegrown harmony
Breaking through last year as Liverpool Ladies’ youngest debutant, England Under-19 Mayumi ‘Maz’ Pacheco has maintained her swift development this season, spending the past few months on loan with Doncaster Rovers Belles but all the while continuing to strike the notes in the name of the club she’s grown up bonded with.
With back-to-back FA Women’s Super League (FA WSL) titles behind them, the second of which came in dramatic final-day circumstances, Liverpool kicked off the 2015 league campaign with a televised home clash with newcomers Sunderland. Although the promoted visitors surprisingly came out 2-1 winners, the night had provided the first step on the first-team stage for Liverpool’s Maz Pacheco.
Still five months short of her 17th birthday at the time, the left-back’s appearance in the final few minutes in Widnes made her the youngest to play for the senior side and the progress hasn’t halted in the time since. In Matt Beard’s final year leading the Reds, she figured 15 times in all and had played a part in the current season under Scott Rogers before a Deadline Day loan switch to Doncaster at the end of June.
Despite an arduous year on the pitch for Doncaster, ultimately ending in relegation back to WSL 2, Maz settled strongly with the Belles, adding an alternative viewpoint to her football understanding and making a number of new teammate connections in the process. A prospect valued back at Liverpool by those who’ve seen first-hand what she can do, it wasn’t long after she arrived in the first team that she was to enjoy something that plenty of players around the world never get the privilege of in their career.
Along with ‘she’s number 33, her football’s heavenly,’ the fans gave Maz her own version of Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and it’s fair to say it’s one that stays in the mind! She describes how the first time she heard ‘all we need is…Maz Pacheco’ ringing out from the stands is a memory that will last.
“I can remember them singing it in the middle of the game and I had to stop and listen for a second because I couldn’t believe it. The fans were really welcoming when I stepped up to the first team so when they sang that song I was very grateful.
“My friends always end up singing it when I’m with them, anywhere we go. I think they find it’s a catchy tune!”
Ormskirk-born, Maz has been moving up the age levels at Liverpool in recent years and was an FA Youth Cup and FA WSL Northern Development League winner. She has also been sharpening her game at international level, playing last year for England at the UEFA Under-17 European Championship in Iceland.
Although born and raised in England, the 18-year-old is half-Filipino and every bit as proud of that side to her heritage. Before secondary school, Maz spent a few months living in the Philippines and a trip back there always brings more of a homecoming than holiday feel. Somebody with a definite taste for music, she remembers one visit that had a bit more of a frantic start to it than intended, for that very reason.
“Seeing Bruno Mars live in the Philippines is a memory I’ll never forget; literally getting off a 23-hour flight and rushing to the arena to see him. I would have loved to have seen Oasis live and definitely seeing Beyoncé live is on my bucket list!
“I would say music does play a big part in my life and certainly for my pre-match rituals. Artists I enjoy listening to are the likes of Chris Brown, Arctic Monkeys, Bryson Tiller; my music taste varies quite a lot depending on what mood I’m in.
“One song I think I’ve played a lot over the last couple of weeks has to be ‘Not Nice’ – PartyNextDoor.”
Raised in the village of Upholland in West Lancashire, Maz was a spectator at games from very early on, though she didn’t get much say in the matter! Her mum would take her along to support her brothers, Miguel and Miko, when they used to play on a Sunday, and she started playing herself at around five years old.
The boys’ team Skem United was the first she played for, not too far from home, and much like football has stayed close with her from back then, so has a Sheffield-crafted something from the not-so-distant past.
“I think one of the first songs I ever bought was called ‘The Bakery’ by Arctic Monkeys when I was around nine years old and I still listen to it now!”
A childhood Liverpool fan, Maz had a trial with the club at 12 years old but it would be another year until she was taken on, joining the club’s Under-15 side. The Under-17s followed, before she signed for the Reds’ Development Squad, although there was admittedly frustration for a time as she travelled with the team without getting much in the way of game action.
Her breakthrough did arrive, however, as she grasped a starting spot during a 2014/15 season that brought the WSL Northern Development League title. Showing her attacking side with three goals, Maz then appeared for the first team during the 2015 pre-season and began to rack up the starts from July onwards, playing regularly for the rest of the year.
During the season, now-departed American keeper Libby Stout and New Zealand forward Rosie White featured in detail on here, while captain Gemma Bonner and former Reds like Corina Schröder and Fara Williams have also each uncovered elements of their music side previously. From the current crop, an England Under-20 midfielder whose influence has been growing on the field is also still the one most often responsible for the team’s backing track, says Maz.
“I think Katie Zelem is pretty much in charge of the music in the changing rooms and on the bus; it’s a variety of songs really, not just one type. I’d say I get into it – a little dance with Satty (Satara Murray) sometimes – but before a game I like to sit and focus as well.”
Upon successfully acquiring her back in the summer, Belles manager Emma Coates praised Maz as ‘an extremely exciting and talented young player.’ Donny were 2-1 winners over Sunderland in the Continental Cup on her debut, which remains the Belles’ only win of the season.
Against the same opponents in the league at the start of September, Maz gave them an early lead at The Keepmoat Stadium as she pounced to volley home a rebound after Sunderland defender Victoria Williams’ header was clawed away by Rachel Laws. It was an enjoyable moment for the whole team in what was unfortunately to be a 4-1 loss, with Maz’s teammates gleefully rushing to celebrate her maiden WSL goal.
She gives a sample glimpse into the characters that make up the Belles squad as she tells how it’s a Northern Ireland defender presiding over the playlist, while a Welsh international is serving a seemingly permanent ban!
“At Doncaster, Rach (Newborough) is in charge of the music on game day, but with training, anyone is welcome to put their music on, as long as it’s not Razza (Rhiannon Roberts) – she’s a bit retro with her tunes!”
A Rising Star nominee at last year’s Northwest Football Awards, Maz has looked at home amongst some established teammates and opponents in recent times. Since her introduction to top-level competition, she has been around to witness not only how they get to work on the field, but how they perform when the match-day cameras aren’t rolling.
“I’d have to say Kate Longhurst is one with her singing and dancing; she does on a day-to-day basis, she’s not afraid to bust a move! I think Lea Little (at Doncaster) deserves a mention as well with her dance moves in the changing rooms before training.”
As she mentioned, Maz is not always one to let a track pass without getting into the rhythm. Along with a fellow England youngster, currently on loan at Everton from Arsenal, she has shown off a little of her moves.
“I think me and Chloe (Kelly) are definitely into our music at camp; it’s mainly me and her who share taking it in turns with the speaker. We have a little dance here and there, especially after we play well or win a game.”
As England competed at the UEFA Under-17 Championship last June, young forward Kelly captained Maz and the rest of the Young Lionesses in their draw with Spain, victory over hosts Iceland, and eliminating loss to defending champions Germany. There is most definitely a continental glow about Maz’s answer to the question of which teammates she’d recruit to record a song cover with, as she brings in a couple of fun-loving karaoke stars for this Reds rendition.
“I think recording a cover as a group would be wiser than a duet! I think I would definitely have the two Dutchies, Shanice (van de Sanden) and Mandy (van den Berg); with the videos they’ve been making they certainly have the experience for it!
“Maybe Kate (Longhurst) as well to show off her dance moves!”
Back to the more familiar setting of the day job, Maz had appeared three times this season for Liverpool before the temporary switch to South Yorkshire, including starts at home to Chelsea and away to Notts County. In the debut year in charge for former boss Matt Beard’s ex-assistant Scott Rogers, the Reds have won seven of their 15 league games and sit 4th approaching their final WSL game of 2016, at home to Arsenal (Sunday 6th November).
The six goals of the team’s number 10 have helped lead the way and if Maz was to stay behind after training for shooting practice with anyone in the game, she would want this Scottish international there, alongside a South American with more than a slight Scouse connection.
“I think I’d definitely have to say Luis Suarez and Caroline Weir – her left peg is scary!”
Maz was one of 100 identified to receive backing from the SSE Next Generation, a support scheme offering mentoring, nutritional guidance, media training and financial assistance to athletic prospects. This sort of initiative wasn’t accessible for her when she was growing up and she has benefited from its help when it comes to travelling, as well as in getting the equipment she needs.
Recently with the England Under-19s in Belfast as they beat Northern Ireland, France and the U.S. to win the Women’s International Cup, Maz explains how the past few months with the Belles have had her feeling challenged yet at ease.
“The schedule has been very busy, especially when we have double sessions, so it’s been fun to just focus on football all day. I think I settled in straight away within the first session; all the girls helped both on and off the pitch, they were all so nice and welcoming when I first came in.”
Once used to a more attacking role, it was while Maz was in Liverpool’s Under-17 squad that her coach Matty Campbell familiarised her with the left-back station she has started to make her name from. In June 2014, she was an FA Youth Cup winner as part of his Reds team, with Kess Elmore’s goal enough to beat neighbours Everton in Milton Keynes.
Maz had been studying PE, psychology and law at college but she has been able to devote more of her focus to football this year, as she explains along with sharing some more of her long-term wishes away from playing.
“I did study those subjects in college but I’m taking a gap year at the moment. I do really want to travel; Hawaii is a place I’d love to visit, and go to a couple of festivals abroad like Hideout and Coachella.”
As Maz’s progress has begun to accelerate, she has been just as quick to point to the sacrifices made by her family to support her over the years. She has become accustomed to having to put certain commitments on the backburner, although her free time gets spent like most teenagers, catching up with friends and relaxing.
The last 19 months in particular have seen her make quick headway and there is already enough to reflect on as the lights begin to come down on her second season. In each of the features on here, the interview closes with the player asked to get into fantasy 5-a-side mode and to put forward four of the teammates from their career so far they’d want alongside them in a game like this.
Of course Maz is pretty early on in her path in the game, although through England, Liverpool and Doncaster she has already had a more-than-worthy collection of characters and competitors around her. It is admittedly extremely tough for any player to narrow it down to only four and so the idea is to get just a sample selection!
Here are some of those who would get the call-up from Maz, with the homegrown base topped off by the most recent Swedish international to represent the Reds.
“I’d have Sandy MacIver in goal – England teammate – because she is like a cat and does have secret tekkers since she used to be a striker. I think in defence with me I’d have Razza (Rhiannon Roberts), from Donny, because she would literally block shots with any part of her body and her Burnley accent would make me laugh.
“In midfield I’d put Zel (Katie Zelem) in since she’d wind up other teams when she scores and celebrates. I’d have Emma Lundh as my striker as well because her right foot is scary when she smashes the ball.”
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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