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Experiencing international play in Russia as told by Region I ODP Coach Darren Marshall


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Assistant Coach Darren Marshall traveled to Russia to coach the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) Girls Under-16/17 Region I team in the 2014 Kuban Spring Tournament. Check out his blog as he recounts their experiences on and off the field!

Day 1: March 16, 2014 Day 9: March 24, 2014
Day 2: March 17, 2014 Day 10: March 25, 2014
Day 3: March 18, 2014 Day 11: March 26, 2014
Day 4: March 19, 2014  
Day 5: March 20, 2014  
Day 6: March 21, 2014  
Day 7: March 22, 2014  
Day 8: March 23, 2014  

Day 1:

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Hello Everyone!
My name is Darren Marshall and I am the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) Girls U16/17 Region I Assistant Coach. We have taken a wonderful group of young ladies (view roster) on a trip of a lifetime to the 2014 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 from our trip!

We have arrived on the first leg of our journey. We'll be in Istanbul for the next few days before traveling to Sochi.

We all met at JFK airport, checked in and got ready for our flight. We lost one player, Sam, due to illness just hours before the trip, and she was crushed! Sam you are with us in spirit and we want you to get better soon. Keep your fingers crossed for us as we take on this adventure!

We landed in Istanbul, went to get our visas and then proceeded to passport control. As we looked around, we saw a friendly face, Alper. It was kind of weird to see him inside at customs but maybe things are a bit different than what we are used to in Turkey. Alper greeted us with a smile and a hug. We walked towards baggage claim and there was a police man following us watching the girls. Nervously I asked Alper what he was doing. He laughed and said, “You are guests of the Turkish Federation, so we want you to feel welcome and safe while you are here. We have the Turkish Federation Bus outside waiting for you. You will have a police escort with you during your trip.” We grabbed our bags and started to proceed through customs. The airport police officer walked us through and stopped traffic so we could walk to our bus. We loaded up, got on the bus and saw that we had a police car in front of us with its lights flashing, and a car behind us with two traffic officers in it. They really rolled out the red carpet for us and made us feel very special.

Day 2:

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It’s now 7:30am. We get to the hotel, get breakfast and drop off our bags. Now it was time to see a little of the city. As we drive to our first stop, Alper tells us about the road we were on - a part of an aqueduct from ancient times. Then he points across the Miramar Sea to two towers. He tells the girls, “Do you see that over there? Right now you are in Europe and over there is Asia.”  We were literally driving on the border of Europe. 

We get to the Blue Mosque and wow what a site! It was one thing to have heard about this but it was even more impressive to be at in person. We stopped for a second to take a picture outside of it and then proceeded inside. We all had to take off our shoes and all of the girls had to cover their heads. We walked inside to see the beauty of the mosque, which has been there since 1616. There was an area where we were allowed to take pictures, but there were also parts that were sectioned off and we were not allowed to enter. We only looked from afar. In the back we saw a section that said ‘Women’s praying area.’ One of our security officers showed us a guide to the mosque. He took us through as a group and showed us the detail, beauty and history of the mosque. Wow! They were so welcoming and hospitable to us, inviting us and treating us like this.  Talk about impressive and touching. It was incredible. We then proceeded outside and headed to the Turkish Bazaar for some shopping.

We went back for lunch and then headed off to training. Ian, the girls’ head coach, had a light session. We are excited to see that we have a very good team here. It is important for us to get things right as we have a great chance to make a run for the title here at the tournament.

After a great session we headed back to the hotel and found our friend Muge there. We knew her from last year's Turkish National team. Now she's working for the Turkish professional club Galatasaray, with their youth boys team. She is the first woman physiotherapist in a men’s professional club in Turkey and she is doing great things! She also brought the staff and the girls gifts from the club! How awesome!

We had a wonderful day of sightseeing and training and now we are back at the hotel to crash! We have dinner to go to and then we're off to bed! Tomorrow we play against Turkey for a friendly, and then we will continue our trip to Sochi to play in the Kuban Spring Tournament.

Day 3

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Hey Everyone,

Having all slept like zombies, we woke up today to a beautiful day. The city of Istanbul is a city of rolling hills along the sea banks, filled with flats and beautiful mosques. We ate breakfast and took some time to pack up our stuff. Our first game was scheduled for 1:00pm versus Turkey. At 10:30 am our security personnel showed up. I also got a call from the Turkish Football Association because they wanted to review our roster. The general secretary of the Turkish FA came to the hotel, got our roster and rode on the bus with us to the game.

We pulled up to the stadium at about noon. Our bus entered through the back gates. We walked into the locker room and saw water, fruit, a countdown of the time for us to line up, exchange gifts, etc. I looked around the stadium and counted 37 workers from the Turkish FA. It felt like a true international game.

As we started the game, it was a cagy affair. Turkey sat in a little and allowed us to play with the ball. We went back and forth and halftime came. There was still no score. We had a few chances, and they did as well, but nothing was clear. It was evident that we were working off all the travel and shaking out all the kinks. We went into halftime, made a few slight adjustments and then went out for the second half. Right away Turkey started to press us. About 10 minutes in, they received a ball to the right and one of their girls crossed it to the back post. Their forward jumped and headed it in … goal. We lost them for a quick minute and got punished.

We came back out and started pressing hard to get the equalizer. With about 20 minutes left, Coach Ian made a sub and all I can say is Turkey got ‘Schnurred’!  Our player Kristen Schnurr stepped on the field and decided to show our opponents that they could not catch her. We got a ball and Nat up top did excellent work to win it and lay a ball off for herself as she ran through the defense. She passed the centerback (pretty much leaving her standing still), got in on a breakaway and got tripped just before taking the shot. Two minutes later the ball came to Jade and she saw Schnurr running down the flank. She played a perfectly placed 45 yard ball to split two of the backs. Schnurr took a touch then let loose a fierce strike that the goalkeeper tried to catch (tried being the key word as it powered through her hands). As soon as the ball hit the back of the net, Schnurr spun around, head cocked to the side loose at the sideline, smiled, winked, and pointed out, “That was for you, Coach.” Then she proceeded to walk back to her teammates with a little swagger in her step.

We had about 15 minutes left of play. All of a sudden, there went Schnurr again, flying down the flank as if her shoes are on fire. She got to a ball and laid it off to Jules. Now Jules had a little bit of salsa in her feet and she decided not to be shown up. She was going to let the world know what she could do. Near the corner of the 18 yard box on the left side, she received the ball from Schnurr and started to dance. I could hear the “Joga Bonito” song start to take beat. She paused for a second, hand on her hip, watched as a Turkish player was flying at her feet first in a slide tackle, and she coolly touched the ball to the side and watched the girl fly by. Another was right behind the first and Jules started to shake her hips like it was the samba. The girl went right, the girl went left, the girl went down and Jules was still standing there with the ball. Jules looked up saw three more Turkish defenders and the goalkeeper running at her and she calmly bent the ball to the far corner to hit the winning goal! Wow, that was awesome! Six minutes passed and then the whistle blew! We won 2-1. After over 30 hours of traveling, jet lag, and a lack of sleep, these girls put in a great performance!

We headed back to the hotel, got cleaned up and checked out. We then headed to dinner at a Turkish kebab house restaurant where our Turkish friend Alper had set up dinner for us. Wow what an amazing meal! It was awesome! After dinner we headed to the airport to catch our 12:20am flight to Sochi. We met the Turkish team at the airport as we were checking in. We got through passport control, got to the gate and saw that the Romanian team was on the same plane as we were. After boarding we also saw the Hungarian team come in behind us. One third of the tournament’s teams were all on the same flight. With the two hour time difference, we landed at 4:30am. We got through security no problem and headed to the buses. We pulled in to the hotel at 6:45am, checked in and went straight to bed.

"Spokóynoy nóchi" (good night everyone)! We will talk to you tomorrow!

- Big D


Here’s a recap of the day:

  • Played first game: 2-1 win
  • Back to hotel: meeting
  • Kebab Dinner
    • Good food
    • Wished happy birthday to our waiter
  • Traveled to airport for Sochi flight
    • Saw Hungary, Turkey, Romania on flight
  • Landed and passed through security at 4:45am
  • Checked in to our hotel
  • Got to bed at 6:30am


Day 4:

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Hello Everyone,

This morning/afternoon was a late one as we slept from about 6:45am to 1:00pm around lunch time. As soon as we got downstairs, the tournament directors came up to me suddenly and said, “Darren you’re coming with us.” I hopped in a car and was taken to downtown Sochi where we had a tournament press conference. There were five people on the panel: the director of Women’s football in Russia, the Russian U-19 head coach, the ministry of sport, the football director, my translator and me. We all talked for a few minutes before the press conference started and they recounted their trip to the U.S. last month. The entire Women’s Russian team played our national team and they told me it was a great and humbling experience. The press conference started and people began asking questions about the tournament and participating teams.  Once it ended, two Ukrainian reporters who we knew from past tournaments came up to say hi.

I got back to the girls and they had just finished their afternoon break. Then off to training we went. The fields were a bit muddy but we got in a good session. On the way home, our director saw something on the side of the road and told the bus driver to pull over. He hopped off the bus, and I ran after him to see what was going on. He crossed the street and went up to a woman that we knew from past years. She had a stand where she was roasting chickens on a rotisserie!  He bought seven of them for the girls and staff and we got back on the bus to head to the hotel. The smile on his face, as well as the girls', was priceless. We got back, the girls washed up and then we had an amazing rotisserie chicken dinner. Afterward we had a quick meeting and then we were off to bed! As we walked upstairs we saw last year’s finalist walking in through the door - the Ukrainians. After quick greetings, we headed to bed for the night! Game day tomorrow vs. Hungary!

‘Night everyone!

- Big D

Day 5:

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Hey Everyone,

Today we woke up to a cloudy sky, but there was a little buzz in the air. Today was game day. We were taking on Hungary for our first game of the tournament. The opening ceremonies were at 4:00pm and our game was scheduled for 5:00pm. Russia took on Romania on the main field and we were on field 2.

At 1:00pm, the sky was getting grey and we took a trip to the beach where we had a short meeting to get ourselves focused for the game. It was getting cloudy like if it were going to rain but we didn’t mind as we are ready to play. We got dressed and started to head to the fields. The girls headed to the locker room and the coaches headed to the field. It was a bit muddy and we were slipping around as we walked on it. We wanted to go to the turf field since it would have helped accent our attributes. To our surprise Hungary wanted to do the same thing and asked us if we would agree to the field change. The girls warmed up and started heading back to the locker room and I stopped to watch the Hungary team for a few minutes. They were extremely technical. I didn’t know if the coach was having them show off or not but he was having them go through a number of difficult tricks and skills, and his team was pulling them off like nothing!

The game began and Hungary held off a little bit and let us play with the ball. We started strong and started knocking the ball around. It wasn’t long before Hungry received a ball, got around our players and showed us that they were going to play rough. I think they were surprised at how smart, athletic and technical we were as well. The game was progressing well and then in the 30th minute Eva received a ball towards the top of the box. She cut in front of a defender, and the defender clattered in to her giving up a foul. Erin Neville stepped up and asked the referee for 10 yards. We got our runs sorted out and then it seemed like everything slowed down “matrix style.” Erin, completely in tune with the game, looked around and saw that their wall was talking to each other and one girl motioned to another to jump. Erin backed up, looked at the goal, looked at the angle required to get the goal (42 degrees), calculated the distance of the kick (about 19 yards), and thought of the power she wanted to use to hit the ball with (53 PSI). Then she hit a rocket of a shot, low and under the wall, and it zipped by the goalkeeper before she was able to dive for it! We went up 1-0 on a beautifully taken set piece!    

We went into halftime up 1-0. They had one girl (#5) that was very good, but Jade “the blade” had managed to keep her quiet. We started the second half and picked up where we left off. Maddie stood in the middle of the field, and OMG did she start to put on a show! With her own creative touches she started to break down the Hungarian defense.  We looked good. We had them pinned back to their own half and they could not get out. One of our wide players played the ball back to Hannah. She heard Darien our goalkeeper call for the ball so she turned and hit the ball back to her, not aware that Darien was coming out to collect it. Uh oh, we all gasped and watched the ball roll past Darien and roll into the back of the net. There was no Hungarian player in our half of the field; they jumped for joy when the tying goal went in. Hannah had her face in her hands in horror and Jill turned to her and said, “Well ‘H’, at least you’re in the running for the Golden Boot.” She patted her on the shoulder and then got back to the game. It’s events like that that can cause a team to implode. Our team however did not miss a beat. They kept up the pressure and went after Hungary and after the win. 

With four minutes remaining in the match, we got a corner kick on the right side. We played the ball in and up rose Jenna Bike even after she was surrounded by six of their players. She rose like a hot air balloon on a clear day as she was able to get to the ball before any of the other players. While hanging in the air, she looked around and hit the ball to the back of the net. She ran back with a smile on her face and a swagger in her step knowing what she had just accomplished. She looked to the bench at Coach Ian and myself (Big D), pointed to us, and gave us a head nod as if to say, ‘that was for you coach!’

The final whistle blew and we had won the game. We started off the tournament well. Now we prepare for the next. Later at night, we attended the opening ceremonies and watched and cheered as the festivities began. Now we look to try and defend the Kuban Spring Championship we won last year!

Have a good night everyone. Talk to you tomorrow!

- Big D

Day 6:

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Hey Everyone,

We woke up to a cloudy day this morning but the sun was trying to peak through. Today was training day. We are thankful for getting the first win under our belts and we’re preparing for the next game tomorrow. We got our pool work out in and then got breakfast. Today we were in the rhythm. We were taking care of injuries and prepping for the next day. We got a few hours off for a study hall and got ourselves caught up with everything we needed to.

As we got back to the lobby later that evening, we saw a huge Iranian flag on the window and a bunch of cookies and sweets all laid out on a table. Not sure what to make of it we just looked and walked by. After dinner we came back to the hotel and saw the Iran team downstairs. They offered us the cookies and sweets, and told us that it is their new year and they wanted to celebrate with all of us. The girls started talking to different people and I walked to the top of the stairs. I turned around because I forgot something and then I couldn't help but take a moment to look out and take in what I was looking at.

There were some nervous times prior to us getting here with all of the things that are happening in the world. We had to ask for guarantees on our security and take extra measures to make sure that we could make it here. I turned and looked down at the lobby and saw the players and staff on Iran's team sharing their New Year's traditions with everyone. There was our USA team, the Ukraine team, the Russian team, and Israel’s team all enjoying and smiling at each other’s company. Not long after we had to leave to attend Culture Night, so all of the tournament's teams came down to the lobby.

Culture Night started and the lobby emptied. I saw Vladimir Simorlot, an official from the Russian Federation and the original tournament director, standing in the lobby and watching everyone leave. He was standing there with a smile on his face and he looked up and pointed to me. He walked over and said to me in his broken English, “Do you know how Culture Night started?” I shook my head no and he proceeded to remind me of my first trip to Russia.

In 2008, we were invited for the first time to the tournament and Kevin Long and I came to Krymsk, Russia as the coaches of the American team. We had a great squad that included current Boston Breaker, Maddy Evans, and Portland Thorns/U.S. Women's National Team player, Amber Brooks. There was a day that the Polish coaches asked the American coaches to play a small 3v3 game during our down time. We accepted and both of our teams loved the idea. The girls dressed up and were cheering for the game. After about 35 minutes, the coaches all looked up and we saw about 85 people from other teams and off the street that had stopped to watch. The hotel and tournament’s staff members were all watching the game and how much fun the two teams were having together - dancing, singing and cheering. From that moment on Vladimir said that each year we would have a culture night where all teams can share something special from their own country.

Off to Culture Night we went. We saw people from three different religions and three different continents. Through all of the adversity that is going on around them in the world, the character of these girls showed through as they were smiling, laughing and enjoying learning about each other.

It is nights like tonight, when I can see interactions and learning like this, that drive me to continue to try and find opportunities for the players that I have the honor of coaching.

Good night everyone,
Big D        

Day 7:

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Hey Everyone,

Today was game day. Our second game was versus Krasnodar’s semi-pro team. We woke up and got into our routine of our morning pool work out, and then got breakfast. The girls looked good and were feeling good. We reserved a room by the beach and took a walk to get ourselves in the right mindset for the game. We watched a little video, set the lineup and then finished getting ready for the game.

We got on the bus, and I saw the girls with their headphones on - serious and focused. They were ready to play. As we pulled up to the field, I saw a few of them cracking smiles. We got to the field and walked to the locker room. We started to feel the energy. Regardless of what happened in the other games, if we won today we were guaranteed a place in the quarterfinals. 

We got dressed and walked out to the field. It was a beautiful day. There were a few clouds in the sky, but it was sunny and there was a slight breeze; it was about 55 degrees.

We won the coin toss and chose our side of the field. The game started and we were in complete control. The first few minutes we played, we looked good. Krasnodar was completely committed and we saw it by the way they were trying to fly in through challenges. They were throwing their bodies at everything and trying to get us off our game. About 10 minutes in, not too threateningly, they got a ball that bounced in our box and shot it low at the goal. Brooke our goalkeeper saw the shot coming to the left of her foot - too far to reach for - so she decided to get down, like a bear grabbing salmon out of the river. She took hold of the ball and snuffed out the danger.

At about 18 minutes, Eva G. received a ball on the flank. She had an outside back running at her and she broke down and cut inside. There were two other players running towards her. Eva, you have to understand, seemed as if she was running in slow motion, but she couldn’t be dispossessed. She had done her makeup and her hair in the morning before the game and now we know why. She looked over at all of the press people and seemed to pause for a moment to smile. They knew something special was coming so they got their cameras ready. Eva got to the top of the box, slipped by two other players, and then with the grace of a gazelle, but the power of a lightning bolt, took a step and struck a thunderous shot to the back post’s upper 90. The goalkeeper had no chance! She turned around and stood there, hands in the air. You could hear the repeated clicks of the cameras in the stadium and our team ran to give her a hug. It was truly amazing and will definitely be in the running for goal of the tournament! Wow, we were just in awe of the sheer beauty of what she had done. As she jogged back to the line for the kick-off she made sure to run by the press and smile. She gave them a wink knowing she had just done something special.

The game started again and we were on such a high. We battled for the next couple balls and then Krasnodar launched one into the box. Their forward went for the ball and then let out a scream. We didn’t know what had happened but then we saw the referee run and point to ‘the spot.’ Penalty Kick. What? Three minutes after our goal? They stepped up and scored their kick making it 1-1. We felt a little hard done by. Our team rallied around it, not skipping a beat, and started to play even harder. A few minutes later we got cross after cross, shot, then a cross. We were peppering their goal but just couldn't find the finishing touch. We got a free kick outside of their box and Erin stepped up and smashed the ball towards the goal. The keeper stopped it and sent it out for a corner. I looked back and saw she had her hands under her arms trying to stop the sting through her gloves.

After the corner we were fighting for the ball. One of their players pulled Jill down in the box and we got a PK. Yes! An opportunity! Up stepped Neville, ready to take it. She looked at the keeper and stared her down. The ref blew her whistle. The keeper, ready, heard the whistle blow. She started to jump and blinked as she felt a warm breeze by her face. Erin had stepped up and smacked the ball with so much power the keeper did not see it fly by her; She just felt the heat from the fiery shot and when she opened her eyes it was all over! We were up 2-1! The ref walked over to the net, I presume to check and see if there was a hole in it. I don’t think she had ever seen a shot that hard!

The second half was much of the same - them trying to run us over like tanks and us skipping away from challenges and showing them why we are Region I! It was now the dying minute of the game. Jenna Bike kept slipping by challenges and Nat was battling up top to keep the ball for us.  We had four minutes of stoppage time and we got a throw in. We got the ball to Nat and she played it to Jules. We heard the music start as Jules started to teach Nat the samba and the two of them started to dance with the ball in the corner. They kept it away from the other team. It was amazing. There were seven Krasnodar players and just two of them and they kept getting corner after corner, and throw after throw. Jules had her hand in the air. It looked like her eyes closed as she just felt the beat. She got a smile on her face as she heard the final whistle! Yes! We have accomplished our first goal! We are now in the quarterfinals!

We have some sightseeing and a down day tomorrow and then preparation for the next game vs. Turkey to try and get 1st place in our group.

Good night all! Today was a good day and we are a happy crew. Now off to bed and then on to prepare for the next game!

Good night!
Big D 

Standings as of tonight:
Group A: Ukraine-6, Slovakia-3, Estonia-3, Iran-0
Group B: Russia-6, Israel-6, Romania-0, Azerbaijan-0
Group C: USA-6, Krasnodar-3, Turkey-3, Hungary-0

Day 8: TBA

Day 9: TBA

Day 10: TBA

Day 11: TBA