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

2015 ODP logo

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. Check out his blog as he recounts their experiences on and off the field!

Day 1: March 1, 2015 Day 6: March 6, 2015
Day 2: March 2, 2015 Day 7: March 7, 2015
Day 3: March 3, 2015 Day 8: March 8, 2015
Day 4: March 4, 2015 Day 9: March 9, 2015
Day 5: March 5, 2015 Day 10: March 10, 2015


ODP Region I Links:
2015 ODP Girls Croatia Roster
ODP Girls Region I Facebook Page

Read blogs from past events:
2013 Blog: ODP Region I Girls in Russia
2014 Blog: ODP Region I Girls in Russia

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Day 1


Hello Everyone,

Welcome to the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) Girls Under-16/17 Region I international trip blog. This year we have the fabulous opportunity to visit a few beautiful cities and play excellent soccer games! Along the way I will write updates on how our trip is going, but please also go to our Facebook page to see great pictures of the team and our adventures.

As all of us from Region I (the northeast region) prepared to head to New York City to meet up as a team and catch our flight to Europe, Mother Nature threw us a slight curveball we had to deal with: snow! We had to catch a 7:30 pm flight, but because of the snow, by the time 7:30 pm came around our team was on four different flights departing from three different airports which were all set to land in London within 45 minutes of each other.

Day 2

London Eye - Blog Day 2

We stepped off the plane 11 hours later. We all had arrived and were together in London. We missed our connection to Venice but as long as we were together we could make any situation work. We collected our bags, went through immigration and decided to make lemonade out of lemons. We checked in to our hotel, grabbed a quick bite and then headed to the London Tube!

We headed to central London to explore the sights - Big Ben, the London Bridge, the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, Wembley Stadium, the River Thames and the London Eye! Awesome! On the nice walking tour through the city, the girls seemed to have fun. As we walked, all of them snapped photos. Maria Garofolo asked Grace Bendon to get a photo of her walking by Big Ben on the bridge. Afterward we headed off to Waterloo Tube Station to take us back to the hotel.

Day 3

Practice - Blog Day 3

We woke up bright and early and went back to the London airport. It was a bit chilly outside. We were all very motivated. We checked in, passed through security, and were given instructions on how to find breakfast. We got on the flight and two hours later we landed in Venice, Italy! We walked off the plane, and saw the sun shining - the temperature was about 65 degrees; everyone took off their jackets as we got off the plane. We cleared customs, got on our bus and two hours later after leaving Italy, passing through Slovenia and entering Croatia we pulled in to our hotel in Umag. We had lunch, training, then a dinner meeting and then went off to bed.

Tomorrow we have our first game of the week vs. Hungary so until then good night or Dovidenja!

-Darren “Big D” Marshall

Day 4

Game v Hungary - Blog Day 4

Hey Everyone,

Today was game day! We had a game this afternoon vs. the Hungary Women’s team at 4:30 pm. Since we had some time before that though, we decided to take the girls on a little tour of a village called Porec, south of where we are staying.

In the morning we walked around a little and saw a beautiful church that has been around since 100 BC. Then we went to the supermarket for some weekly snacks. On the drive home we noticed there was a game going on so we stopped by and got to watch the first half of the Hungary “A” National team vs. the Republic of Ireland National team game. It was a great game and we got to see a few players that just got out of college at Florida State and Hofstra University. One of our girls looked at Ian, the Region I Head Coach, and asked, “Wait, are these players the ‘Abby Wambach’ and ‘Alex Morgan’ of their countries?” He answered “yes” and the reality of where we are and the games we are watching meant so much more, even more so because of the World Cup coming up this summer.  

We went back to the hotel, had lunch, had a pre-game meeting and then got on the bus for the game. As we pulled up to the field we saw it was an overcast day, about 42 degrees and sprinkling. The game started it was a cagy affair as both teams were feeling each other out and just getting used to the pace. As the first half was winding down, Madeline McCracken took the ball, sliced through two defenders, and placed a beautiful pass to Jenna Bike’s foot. Jenna received the ball, floated around the outside back and struck a stinging ball to the goal from an impossible angle. We all got ready to celebrate but then the wind sent the ball just inches wide of the post. The whistle blew and we headed to the locker room for halftime.

We made a few tweaks for the second half and came out ready to play. The girls were hungry for success. We won the ball at the midfield and decided to give Murphy Agnew, one of our younger players, a chance. She took off down the left flank, beat a defender with a little shoulder tuck, and then turned on the jets flying past two more defenders as she went into the box. She faked a shot, the keeper dove and then made a beautiful no look pass across the six. There came Taylor Bennett who side footed home the opening goal of the game. We deserved that goal; we had been playing well.

Hungary started to press. The sun went down and there was about 10 minutes left in the game when the referee blew the whistle for a penalty kick in Hungary’s favor.

Hungary’s player hit a shot to the far left corner about an inch inside the post. Our goalkeeper Grace Bendon stretched out wide but the ball softly brushed her fingertips making the score 1-1. We played out the last few minutes but were unable to get another chance since Hungary put all of their players in the box to preserve the tie. The final whistle blew and we were happy about the effort but not so happy about the result.

We headed back to the hotel, had dinner and then it was time for bed. We have a little regeneration tomorrow morning and time to prepare for our next game in two days.

Laku noc (good night) everyone,

Big D

Day 5

Darren - Blog Day 5

Hey Everyone,

We woke up this morning to a wind storm. No bother though, it did not stop us from our day of relaxing. We headed down the Croatian coast to a small town called Rovinj. The sun was out and we walked to the top of the city. We saw a church overlooking the ocean and the town behind. The girls got the chance to do a little bit of shopping and they took pictures in the small cobblestone paths. Then we got back on the bus and headed back to the hotel.

We had a light training session and then we had a meeting to get the girls focused on the game at hand tomorrow. We play Slovenia’s National team and need to be ready. We heard they are bringing their top team.

Day 6

both teams - blog day 6

It was still a little windy today but not as bad as yesterday. The girls got a jog and stretch in this morning, ate breakfast early, and hopped on the bus to cross the border into Slovenia. We stopped at a little coast town - Piran - to eat a picnic lunch and look around for a little bit. Most of the towns in this area have churches as their center points. We walked up to the church we saw and looked down over the red roofed houses tightly packed in the peninsula overlooking the water. It was an amazing sight to take in. When we turned around we saw a castle atop a hill that we all decided to walk up to. Of course we had multiple selfie pictures being taken as we trekked to the top. We got to the top of the castle and it was absolutely breathtaking, one of the best sights I have ever seen in my life. We saw the town, the bay with the brilliant blue water, and sailboats buzzing around. We saw snowcapped Alps that border Italy, Austria and Switzerland. We headed back down to the bottom, got on the bus and prepared for our next game versus Slovenia.

We pulled into the stadium, walked into the locker room and saw many lockers, bottles of water, a dry erase board, massage table and anything else we could ask for to be successful. The girls started getting ready - braiding their hair, listening to music, and getting last minute notes from Coach Ian and I. We walked to the field and saw our opponents warming up. We looked at the roster and saw they brought their “A” team, ages 20-36. They are ranked number #62 in the FIFA World Rankings.

They started to play our National Anthem and our girls put their arms around each other and looked up with pride and vigor. They were ready for the task at hand and ready to do this together as a team. The whistle blew and we were off. Slovenia kicked off and they started to zing the ball around from side to side. For the first two minutes we just chased.

About 20 minutes pass and we got stronger in the game, then it happened. Mackenzie Smith won the ball and passed it to our midfielders. They played a few combinations in the middle of the field and then the ball made its way out to Samantha Coffey on the right. Sam sliced past the outside back then played a pass to Taylor Bennett up top. Taylor accelerated away and five strides later was 10 yards away from their keeper. Taylor took a deep breath, looked at the keeper, and slotted the ball underneath the goalie’s arm and right into the goal.  Great! We were up 1-0 and it was beautiful. We made it to halftime and were feeling good.

We didn’t make any changes and started the second half right where we left off. We pressed them, making them panic. We had a series of corners and shots that came close but our opponents stopped us. We made a few subs about 10 minutes later and saw some great stuff from Clara Robbins.

After 75 minutes of play, the girls started to get a little tired. The game had kept a very high pace and we had done well. Slovenia started to press us a little and their captain had put on pressure.

Just four minutes remained. One of their forwards received the ball and ran across the box. It appeared she wanted to strike a curling ball to the far post to tie the game but then Madeline Brill-Edwards challenged her. The play resulted in a free kick in Slovenia’s favor at the top of the box. Two minutes left in the game and we all thought, “Not this!” Slovenia’s team rallied around their kicker. We set up a wall and their captain ran up. She hit a streaking ball towards goal but our wall did its job. Clara Robbins and Taylor Bennett both clenched their abs of steel and the ball hit them and bounced away. Another Slovenian player struck a follow up volley but our goalkeeper Grace Bendon stepped to the side, caught the ball and smiled as she walked to the top of the box. Grace punted the ball down the field towards the other keeper, and the final whistle blew. We had done it! We won! It was an outstanding accomplishment for the girls! We took a few pictures with the other team and headed back to the bus.

Awesome job to the ladies and now dinner and to bed as we have a light day of sightseeing tomorrow. Hope you all enjoyed the game and catch you in two days when we take on the Hungarian National team again.

-Big D

P.S. - Don’t forget to check out our Facebook page to see our latest photos!

Day 7

Venice - Day 7

Hello Everyone,

We woke up early, had our regeneration training and then got straight on the bus. We were heading to Venice for the day. It’s a two hour trip so we got cozy and took a little nap on the way. As we got closer to Venice, we stopped at a rest stop. Two minutes later, another bus pulled up. It was the Costa Rican Women’s team. It was cool to run into them since they have a unique connection with our team. The beauty about US Youth Soccer ODP Region I is that when the girls are at the Under-14 age group they visit Costa Rica to play against their top women’s clubs. Turns out a number of those women now play for their national team and are here preparing for this summer’s World Cup. Our girls started recognizing girls they remembered playing against in the past. It was a cool experience.

We got to the station and boarded the train in to the city. We walked through the canal filled city, crossing bridges and squeezing through alleys to get to the magnificent St. Mark’s Square. Once there, we broke the girls up and gave them about an hour to go and explore the city. I, along with our coaching staff, went to have a nice lunch at a traditional Italian place. The pizza, pasta, risotto, gnocchi, and cappuccinos were just exquisite. Eating outside in the sun made it that much better. After lunch, the staff went on a short gondola ride where Head Coach Ian and the gondola driver sang and serenaded the ladies that were with us. After that, the staff quickly split up. The ladies went off to find some pasta to take home and the guys went back to the square and got gelato. When we got there we saw some of the girls returning with huge smiles on their faces. They were carrying gifts, had eaten the pizza, and loved eating the Italian gelato.

It was a very good day in Venice and we headed back to the bus. Before our trip was over, our guide had a little surprise for us. We took a water taxi back to the bus. Just as the sun set we stepped on the boat and took our seats. It was absolutely beautiful. We saw the sun, a brilliant red, disappear behind the buildings and we took some amazing pictures.

We got back on the bus and made ourselves comfortable for our drive back to Croatia. A good day in the books, and we look forward to the game tomorrow morning versus Hungary.

Day 8

Hungary game - day 8

Today was a little different since we played a morning game rather than our usual 4:00 pm kickoff. We had breakfast, then had a quick meeting, then we all got on the bus. There was quiet confidence about the girls this morning. After such a big win last time versus Hungary, we had to make sure it wasn’t over confidence. We couldn’t take Hungary lightly.

We got our warm up in and started the game. Right away we came out firing. We took the ball and started to work it around the field. We were spearheaded by Jenna Bike from the start and she made quite an impact. She received the ball out of the air, spun past the defender, and then put a ball in Murphy Agnew’s path. Agnew took a quick touch and then flashed a shot towards the goal. Ten minutes in and we had taken over the game, completely possessing the ball and playing around them. We got to halftime and it was still 0-0, more so I believe from our inability to score and a few chance saves from the other team. We had pressed and pressed with no result. We got to the second half and turned the game up another notch. Time ticked on. Shot after shot. We were making them desperately defend but to no avail. The final whistle blew and the game stood at 0-0. We didn’t accomplish our goal of winning the game but we took a little pride in the fact that we did not concede either.

We went back to the hotel and had a meeting to prepare for our toughest test – up next was France.

Good night everyone!

Big D 

Day 9


Dobre Utra (Good Morning),

Today we got started with a little pool regeneration and a light training to get ourselves ready for our game versus France tomorrow. We have two fantastic trainers with us - Jen and Nicole - and they went over some things with our players for injury prevention. Coach Ian and I got a chance to go and scout their team yesterday so we could create a plan and see if we could notice any of their vulnerabilities to work for our benefit.

Later in the afternoon we all went to the Costa Rica vs. Wales game – part of the Istria Cup we’re competing for – to show the girls how close we are to some of the top players in the world. It was a great game to watch with lots of passion.

We got back and had a light training session to prepare for mighty France’s Under-19 team. France has played the same two teams we already have. They beat Hungary 6-0 with little effort, and they beat Slovenia 6-1 after being down a goal in the first five minutes. We go over a few things and then head off to bed.

Day 10

day 9 team

This morning we went out to the waterfront and had a little moment of reflection. We talked about each person on our team and how special this trip was. Our Region I team really did solidify. We did a cheer and then got ready for our game versus France. Coach Ian and I have gone over about 10 different game plans, line-ups and a thousand scenarios on how to try and attack this game. After scouting France we understood how good they are. They would be able to give any college team in the U.S. a run for their money. We had a tactical meeting with the girls, showed them a short video and then got their input of how we should defend and attack. By the end of the meeting we have a consensus and are ready to take on this game.

We had lunch then left for the field. When we arrived, the real fun started. The night before we had mentioned to the French coaches that the weather had been so bad lately that our girls hadn’t played outside. To our surprise, we arrived and got informed of a field change – we were moved to the stadium field which was about 35% larger than anything we had played on this trip so far. The referees came over and told us we would be allowed to substitute our entire roster but only at three times during the game, so we had to sub in groups. What a curveball! Of course the French team was also allowed to sub their entire roster – which we heard consisted of 21 players! What a game this was going to be. We kept on smiling, determined to win, even if it was just a friendly. The girls lined-up, took some pictures and then the whistle blew.

France took immediate control of the opening kickoff and started knocking the ball around confidently. They got the ball wide and tried to break us down the flank but Madeline Brill-Edwards made a crunching tackle to win the ball and set the tone for the game. We started to attack fiercely. Madeline McCracken, Madison Hammond, and Kiera Clark formed an amazing midfield trio and connected passes with our backs as well as our forwards. The game was a battle each time France got a hold of the ball. They tried to get through us or behind us but we were up for the challenge and equally attacked them back.

Twenty-five minutes passed and the game was pretty even. France had skill, speed, technique, and savvy, but our Region I team had heart! Kiera Clark received the ball in the middle and slipped it to Jenna Bike who played a ball forward to Taylor Bennett. Bennett made it to the corner, kicked the ball off of the other team and produced a corner kick in our favor. Jenna Bike stepped up to take the corner kick. The girls waited at the top of the box for the delivery. Bike made the kick and the girls attacked the ball. Mackenzie Smith rose about seven feet in the air and blasted home a header to the corner of the net! We were up 1-0! The France coach paced up and down the sideline and clearly was not happy. The game continued and France pressured on. They crossed the ball to the other side of the field and sent everyone forward. They got three one touch passes and a flick in the box. There was their center midfielder who ran and hit a volley into our goal. Thirty minutes in and they tied 1-1. We quickly took the kickoff to restart the match and were on the attack again. Samantha Coffey got the ball and played a quick combination with Murphy Agnew which resulted in a throw-in deep in their half, so we unleashed our secret weapon – Liane Keegans. Keegans ran up to take the throw. We planned to throw the ball in to Taylor Bennett but Keegans saw a defender recovering and their goalkeeper out of position. Keegans reached back with the ball in hand and hurled it towards the opposing defender. It skimmed off of her and ricocheted into the goal! We were up 2-1 and still looked strong! The last few minutes of the half France tried to break us down but we didn’t give them an inch. The halftime whistle blew and we headed to the locker room, gasping for air but happy with where we were.

We got back on the field for the second half. The French coach made his first subs - nine of them, almost a brand new team; only two girls from the first half remained on the field. As we start to battle away, both teams get chances. We had to adjust to their new players and formation. An hour into the match we put in two subs. In the 75th minute, we made a few more subs and so did they. We got a free kick outside their box and just blazed it, but it went wide. So close. Taylor Bennett, Murphy Agnew, and MadelineMcCracken all got shots but their keeper came up with some big saves. In the 78th minute they got down the flank, and one of their players got inside our backline. She kicked an unstoppable shot past our goalkeeper, and then the score was tied 2-2. I thought the girls’ heads were going to go down but they picked the ball up out of the net and sprinted to half field to get the game restarted.

We continued to play and had one or two chances. Then in the 88th minute, they got to the line and got a cross. We had a hard time clearing the ball and then one of their players managed to get into the box and with a toe poke sneaked the ball through traffic and into the net. We were down 2-3 with just a few minutes left in the game. The girls kept fighting hard. The referee looked at his watch and blew the final whistle. France started to cheer and tears started running down our girls’ cheeks. They just played the game of their lives and deserved so much more. One of the event organizers ran over to me and said, “What a game!” He then told me that France is the reigning World Champion of the Under-17 World Cup of 2012 and that they have not lost a game in the last two years. Region I has an amazing history but I would guess this would go down as one of the finest moments we have had. Our girls played their hearts out, against an amazing team, and came close to winning. The staff could not be more proud of them.   

We headed back to the hotel and the girls hopped in the bay for one last ice bath. The sun set and we looked out at the beauty one final time. Our time here came to an end. Later on I saw how amazing our girls are - they grabbed their jerseys from home and handed them to their favorite players on the French team. It was such a nice gesture that the French coach allowed his girls to give ours their polo shirts. It was truly a great night. Now it’s time to pack up and get ready for our flight back home.

Laku noc (good night) everyone! See you back in the USA!

-Big D


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