Palo Alto to Manchester United: Sophomore Pursues Soccer Career


Photo courtesy of Sunny Jefferson

Sophomore Andrea Lu, number 19, dribbles down the field as she attempts to score against Santa Clara High School on Feb. 2, 2022. Gunn won with a final score of 6-1.

No one needs to tell sophomore Andrea Lu to keep her eyes on the ball. Throughout her life, she’s kept her gaze locked on the black-and-white sphere, both on the field and on the TV screen. Now, she’s tracked its path all the way to England, where she has begun studying at Manchester United Academy this fall.

Like many dedicated athletes, Lu was first introduced to her sport when she was quite young—more specifically, at the tender age of four. Lu credits her older sister for sparking her passion for soccer. “The reason why I started playing [soccer] was because my sister started playing,” Lu said. “I wanted to be like her.”

Lu also found that competing with her sister gave her an incentive to persevere through challenges. “Something in me wanted [to] always be better than my sister,” she said. “I guess she was also helpful in keeping me motivated.”

Lu started out playing with a local soccer team called Peninsula Silicon Valley (PSV) Union (one her sister played for as well) and remained there until this year, when she moved to Manchester United Academy. It wasn’t PSV Union’s awards or prestige that attracted her to it—the club was fairly small and rarely won big tournaments—but its ability to help Lu hone her skills. “[PSV Union taught] me to become a better player technically,” she said. “It was great for my development.”

Over her tenure at the club, Lu’s mentality developed along with her technique. “I feel like I was much more of an individual player, but growing older, it’s team sports [that are the focus],” she said. “You need to work as a team, not just try and dribble the whole field.”

During her freshman year, Lu decided to join Gunn’s soccer team, which afforded an opportunity for her to build new relationships. “It was really fun,” she said. “That was the main highlight—making new friends and meeting new people.”

In the spring of 2022, Lu made the decision to transfer to the prestigious Manchester United soccer academy. Her  local coaches, Gary and Carine Ireland, were very much involved in the recruitment process, which included evaluation of her play as well as Zoom calls with the Academy. Lu ended up receiving offers from other teams as well, but felt that the atmosphere of Manchester United Academy best suited her. “At United, I felt like it was just the most professional,” she said. “It’s a great environment there.”

Part of the decision process was also based on Lu’s belief that attending the academy would best help her achieve her goals as a soccer player. “The [system] there can [give me] a direct route into playing professionally straight away instead of [going] the normal route, where you go to college and then maybe go to play professionally,” she said. “I feel like if you’re there and you’re good enough, you definitely can go to the pros.”

Ultimately, Lu hopes to play on Futbol Club Barcelona. “That’s my dream team,” she said. “I’ve always been rooting [for them]—I’ve been supporting them since I was little.”

After deciding to attend Manchester United Academy, Lu stayed there for a month beginning in mid-July for pre-season training before school officially began in September. During this time, her schedule consisted mostly of training and participating in games. After waking up at around 7 or 8 a.m., she would have breakfast and then head to practice, which started at 12 p.m. most days and lasted for three to four hours. On game days (usually Wednesdays), Lu and her teammates would square off against teams from other academies, such as Liverpool and Aston Villa. They would also occasionally play teams in London, a four-hour drive from Manchester United Academy. Thursdays were allocated for rest and recovery after Wednesday’s exertion, and then on Fridays Lu would head back into training. (Since the school year officially began on Sept. 5, school hours have been added into the mix.)

Of course, this change to Lu’s daily schedule pales in comparison to the change in her location—after all, England and the United States are separated by thousands of miles. Naturally, such a large geographical gap creates some cultural  ones. “I feel like everything’s a lot smaller [in Manchester]—the cars they drive are smaller and the houses are smaller,” she said. “Obviously, the way they speak is different.”

As she’s become acclimated to the program, Lu has been able to reflect on the progress she’s made as a player, despite setbacks. “This past month, I was able to train with the first team on the women’s side of Manchester United,” Lu said. “A year ago, I had a fractured back, [so] seeing how far I’ve come from is pretty cool.”