Padua's Brieana Hallo & Caravel's Gabriella Marte were both born in the United States, both currently live in Delaware, but will not represent the U.S. in a major worldwide soccer competition that begins this weekend.

Hallo and Marte will both compete for the Dominican Republic in the continental age group tournament known as the CONCACAF Women's U-20 Championship that will take place in the country they'll be representing.

Marte & Hallo are both eligible to compete for the Dominican Republic due to a rule that says a player is eligible for any country they were born in, one of

their biological parents or grandparents was born in, or if they've lived in that country for at least two years.

Marte's father grew up in the Dominican Republic, and through his soccer connections back in his home country, was able to get Brieana and Gabriella

tryouts, that they both passed.

Hallo said she first learned at age 15 she'd qualified for the Dominican National Team.

"It was disbelief at first because it's honestly something that not many people have done before with an opportunity like this. It's obviously something you can't pass up."

For Gabriela, who said she'd only been to the Dominican for one vacation, she said she had to overcome a bit of nerves, make sure she fit into the mix for her national team.

"Maybe at first, but a lot of the girls and fans see my spirit for the team and my passion for the sport and the country. It would be different if I didn't play very hard, but I work very, very hard for that country."

She added that the international opportunity was a true eye-opener.

"Getting to see a different perspective in soccer. A lot of countries, especially third-world countries, they don't have the facilities and necessities we have in the United States. Getting to play down there is a privilege for me to get to

experience new soccer, and get a new perspective in life."

While they are in a Under 20 tournament this time around, both took part in the regional qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics late last

year, which is open to players of all ages.

They went undefeated in their four matches, but a draw against Saint Kitts and Nevis wasn't enough to get them to the final round of qualifying.

Brieana said getting to play against players sometimes a decade older than her has forced her to hone her abilities on the pitch.

"It has helped me skill-wise, but it helped me understand the importance of soccer in my life. The respect for it, the respect for my teammates and coaches, and how the extra work can help me advance."

Now being pitted against players closer to their ages, the Dominican Republic's team is seeded 12th for the group stage of the U-20 Tournament, a group that features the United States.

Brieana said her national team is up for the challenge.

"It would be amazing, but we will be ready. We will play against the United States in this upcoming tournament. We'll take this tournament game by game, but it will be an honor and privilege to play them."

Then there's the matter of being so far away from their current homes.

Brieana, whose mother Ana came to the United States at age 13, said there are at least a few connections to her adopted national team.

"We have a few family members, she has a few cousins. The contact has been distant, but they still come and try to support, and it's amazing to see them there."

Brieana said it doesn't feel strange to her representing a different country.

"Honestly no, because being Dominican is still in me, it's part of my blood. It's part of my family, and it's amazing to get to represent that side of me."

And part of that is getting to hear the Dominican Republic's National Anthem before games.

"It's the best sound, it's the best thing. I love being able to put my hand on my chest to represent them. To know that it's in my blood, and everything I

do will be for them."

Gabriella Marte and Brieana Hallo begin their quests at the CONCACAF U20 World Cup Qualifiers on Saturday when they face Hondurus, with the match against the United States scheduled for Monday.

If they can finish in the top 3 in their 4-team group, the Dominican Republic would be just three wins away from their first major international

competition.

While they're trying to win on the pitch, Gabriella and Brieana aren't getting a free pass from school. They've gotten advance work from their teachers, and

will be taking advantage of on-line resources to keep them even with the classes, while they're getting the ultimate sports study abroad program.

It might even be a reason for a few Delawareans to root against the United States, at least for one match.