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Blog: ODP Region I Girls in Russia

US Youth Soccer Assistant Coach Darren Marshall traveled to Russia to coach the ODP Girls U-17 Region I team in the Kuban Spring Tournament. Check out his blog entries which recount their experiences on and off the field!

Hello Everyone!
My name is Darren "Big D" Marshall and I am the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) Girls U-17 Region I Assistant Coach. We have taken a wonderful group of young ladies on a trip of a lifetime to the Kuban Spring Tournament in Sochi, Russia! Along the way I will write updates of how we are doing, but also, please like our Facebook page to see pictures and videos from our trip!
We started out spread all over Region I, the eastern region of the country, and yesterday we all made the trek to JFK Airport in New York. Smiling faces and excitement surrounded the group as we were ready to board the flight. This year we are accompanied by an all-star staff. Our head coach Ken Krieger is the Girls U-19 Region I Head Coach. Along with his vast knowledge about the game and extensive experience he has to offer these girls, I think he is mostly noticed as he is the dad of USA National Team Member Ally Krieger. Chris A. is our athletic trainer from Boston, and he’s on the verge of starting medical school when we get back from our trip. Kelly Grant came along as our administrator, who’s worked with Region I for the past five years. And once again, I am the assistant coach for this event.
Our flight to Moscow was very good, a quick nine hours. On arrival we had the honor of meeting the last two members of our team, Ally and Sam, who joined us from US Youth Soccer ODP Europe. This is the first year that we have had girls from London and Germany join us and we are very excited for their involvement. 
Walking out of the airport we were reminded of why Region I gave us warm winter-stadium jackets! We were informed that yesterday Moscow was going through a "heat wave"- it was 23 degrees! Wwhhaa! A little cold for my bones! We took a bus to the hotel, got lunch and then went out to explore the heart of the city - Red Square. We were able to see the Kremlin Wall, the National History Museum, Lennon’s Tomb and the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral. To escape the freezing temperature, and to explore some more, we took a tour inside the Cathedral and learned about its history, as most of the building and its artifacts were from the 15th and 16th centuries. Afterward, we took a quick stop to the souvenir vendors and then we were back on the bus and headed to the hotel for the night.
Dosvedanya everyone (which means "goodbye"), and I’ll be back tomorrow with the next update!
- Big D

We woke up early to get the day started and got breakfast at 7 a.m. The night before I had received a call from our opponents’ coach and he suggested that we shorten the game. He said since the girls were playing outside and the temperature was supposed to only be 8-10 degrees, any longer than an hour could be dangerous. You can imagine how I felt! Five minutes would have been too much for my sensitive skin let alone the girls! For the girls’ safety, all the coaches agreed to cancel the game in Moscow. To keep the girls active however, Chris ran them through a small workout circuit in the hotel. Although our game was cancelled due to the cold weather, the good news is I did find out that our ODP team is scheduled to play at one of Russia’s brand new stadiums against last year’s Russian Women’s Football Champions - WFC Rossiyanka.
After the light workout, we headed off for a little Russian adventure before heading to the airport again. We had a 4:30 p.m. flight to Sochi where we would settle and start to prepare ourselves for the tournament at hand. We got lunch at a local restaurant in a mall in Moscow. There was a lot of food. We didn’t know what any of it was and no one spoke English so through smell, sight and lots of pointing, we were able to order and enjoy lunch. On the way out of the mall we saw a Starbucks! Lead by our coaching staff, we all proceeded in to order our teas, hot cocoas, frappuccinos (or their version of it) and lattés.  With that experience, we were off to the airport!
After a short two and a half hour flight, we left the single digit degree weather in Moscow to be welcomed 1,200 miles south by the warmth of the 43 degree weather in Sochi! We headed to the hotel, got dinner and then went straight to bed.
Teams from the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan all came in today and tomorrow the rest arrive. Tomorrow we have training and tournament preparation. On March 6 we have a showcase game in front of a 1000 person crowd - USA vs. Russia! Wish us luck as we are excited and ready to take this tournament by storm!
Good night everyone or "Spokóynoy nóchi!"
- Big D

Hey Everyone,
"Dobre Utra" (Good Morning)!
Wow, what a beautiful day! Today is the first day of the event, which consists of training and preparing for the tournament.
To get the girls moving and working up an appetite, we decided to take them for a run on the beach on the bank of the Black Sea (they didn’t realize how close we were to it last night because it was dark). Afterward, we went to get breakfast and then headed off to training. After a good work out session, we got lunch and then had a second workout session later in the day. The girls are excited. They’re starting to work out the kinks and are ready to get on the field. 
In the evening we attended the opening meeting of the tournament. I was impressed at what a great job this tournament has done to improve itself year after year. This year there will be updates about the tournament on Facebook (link), where there will be pictures and highlights of all of the games.
On the Russian Federation website (link) there will be a live stream of the USA vs. Russia game tomorrow morning. The match will air on March 6 at 8:00 a.m. EST, and opening ceremonies will start at 7:30 a.m. EST. For us here in Russia though, that will be 4:30/5:00 p.m. Although the site isn’t in English, you can translate the page using Google Chrome.
Every year this tournament has been over the top, and this year it is keeping pace as our soccer game is going to be held at the center of Sochi at the Sochi Olympic Stadium, broadcasted across the city and streaming live on the internet. There is an expected crowd of about 1,500 spectators, 250 players and staff attending the match, plus press from the city which means a lot of fanfare. 
Hope you all enjoy the game. Wish us luck! Look forward to the next update tomorrow night!
- Big D 

Hello Everyone!
Wow, what a fun filled day! We started this morning with a pool work out to stretch and get our muscles ready for the day’s events. After a little complaining and coaxing, the girls all got in and started out the day. Afterward we got breakfast, and then had a little downtime before the game.
Coach Ken and I went over to the fields to watch the North Korea vs. Krasnodar game (Group A), and the Turkey vs. Slovakia Game (Group B). In the North Korea game, North Korea went up 1-0 on a great goal created by the team, and then ended the game by winning 2-0. They were surely the dominant team. We left the fields at the halftime of the Turkey vs. Slovakia game to get back to the girls. The score was 0-0 at the time and Turkey was the stronger of the two teams. When we all got back, we heard that Slovakia had beaten Turkey 2-0. That was an upset for sure.
We got lunch with the girls, had a quick tactical meeting and then went off to the opening ceremonies and the game. The stadium was excellent and right in the center of Sochi, Russia. There were about 1,000 people in the stands and we were ready to play. We started our warm-up and then stopped to see the opening performance, but we missed most of it because we were preparing.
It was now game time, and we started to play against Russia. The game went back and forth. You could tell the girls were a little nervous about the environment as they showed moments of real quality, but also allowed Russia to start to play on our side. After a half, it was a well-deserved 0-0. Russia had about five good shots, all from the outside, but none really troubled us as we had Darien D. towering in goal and calmly dealing with all of them.
We talked in the locker room about the things we needed to do in the second half, and then we went back out to fight and try to take the game. Unfortunately, the half did not start out as well as we wanted, and Russia put us under pressure and had a close range shot which they hit wide. They also got two free kicks outside of our box that were dangerous, but thankfully we had Darien in goal to keep us the game. Fifty minutes… 60 minutes… we were getting tired and Russia was getting stronger. Darien came out to collect a ball at the top of the box and a crafty Russian forward beat her to it and we watched the ball heading towards the goal. Out of sheer commitment and desire to have us succeed, our player Peyton raced back and launched herself into the air to barely tip the ball wide giving them a corner kick instead of a ball in the back of the net. Whew! Close call!  They almost broke us down, but they were not able to get the one killer ball due to our committed back line and keeper.
We started to make a few subs to change the game, and we started to get a little stronger. We put in Tina in the back, and she did a good job of keeping up the pressure on the left by continuing to attack from that side. We added Rachel U. to the mix and started to give them a little trouble on the outside. We then put in Sarah M. in the midfield. With her first few touches, the game started to change in our favor. She brought a calmness to the game which we were lacking, and we started to dominate things on the field. At the 75 minute mark, Ken’s experience showed through. In a masterstroke of a move he added Kylie to the outside to run at their outside back, and moved Rachel U. to the middle to utilize her pace. Within seconds that switch started to pay off, and Sarah joined Emma and Amber to send Kylie down the flank with a ball. Rachel looked like a threat. She got the next ball but had a shot right at the keeper. Time was running out…78 minutes… 79 minutes. The referee then shows that there are five minutes of added time. We have only gotten three shots off in the last three minutes and in my mind, we needed to preserve the point as one point for the tie was good.
Then all of a sudden, Rachel got put through on a ball, splitting the two backs. She ran on to it, took a small prep touch, and before the backs were able to close her down, she cracked a thunderous strike to the far side of the goal and it whizzed by the keeper in the 84th minute!!! The bench erupted! Rachel went wild giving out hugs and screaming to all of her teammates. Peyton, who was in the back all by herself, looked up, raised her hands, and let out such a joyous scream, I am sure everyone in the stadium heard! What a wondrous moment, due to the desire, commitment, and great work of the team as a whole. One more minute passed and then we heard the final whistle blow! We won! Joy and hugs surrounded the team! It was a great win!
We all went back to the hotel, the girls took an ice bath, we all got dinner and then we had some downtime. The girls started to talk to the Estonia and the Ukraine girls to make friends. Tomorrow is a slower day. We get to train, go to the study hall, and then relax a bit for the first time since we have been traveling.
Next up, Turkey in 2 days.  
Currently the groups look like this:
Group A:
1)      North Korea – 3 points
2)      Moldova – 0 points
3)      Iran – 3 points
4)      Krasnodar – 0 points
Group B:
1)      Slovakia – 3 points (they have 2 goals, we have 1)
2)      USA – 3 points
3)      Russia – 0 points
4)      Turkey – 0 points
Group C:
1)      Ukraine – 3 points
2)      Romania – 3 points
3)      Azerbaijan – 0 points
4)      Estonia – 0 points
If you'd like to check out photos from the game, click here or check out our Facebook page. Now we are off to bed; training tomorrow to prepare for our next opponent. Turkey here we come!
- D