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

 2014 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 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 12: March 27, 2014
Day 5: March 20, 2014 Day 13: March 28, 2014
Day 6: March 21, 2014 Day 14: March 29, 2014
Day 7: March 22, 2014 Day 15: March 30, 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:

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Hey Everyone,

Today was a nice light day of training and sightseeing. We got up in the morning and got in the pool for a regeneration workout. Then we got breakfast followed by training. It was about 65 degrees outside and absolutely beautiful.  After a good training session we were ready for our match versus Turkey.

We got back to the hotel and got ready for the afternoon. We were going to a special place very close by called Mt. Akhoon. The mountain is an old lookout point for Sochi, 2,100 feet above the shore, and you can scan the whole area of the Black Sea. We got on the bus and started going up the mountain. We watched as we were getting higher and higher. We felt the altitude difference as our ears popped. We got to the top and saw a breathtaking view. We saw the snowcapped Caucasus Mountains and the coastal Olympic village below us. In the distance we saw the Georgian border only 20 miles away. We took a bunch of pictures of the beautiful sight. The girls were amazed at the view from up there. We took a minute to appreciate where we were in the world and looked out to the Black Sea to take in the view one last time.

We got down to the bottom of the mountain and had dinner waiting. Our Regional Director Bob Palmeiro joined us and he wanted to have a dinner with the girls. We all sat down and Bob took a minute to talk to the girls. He told them how proud he was to have been here and watch them represent our program. He said he’s excited to hear the results of our next game and that he has a good feeling about the team. As he looked around the table you could tell that what he was saying was coming from his heart as he loves nothing more than to see this experience help broaden the girls’ horizons.

After an excellent meal we then headed back to the hotel for the evening. We got back and got ready for the night’s events. There was a disco dance that all teams were invited to. We headed over about 8:00pm and Slovakia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Turkey showed up as well. We ruled the dance floor for about 30 minutes and then headed back to the hotel for bed.

In the lobby, Bob said bye to the girls as he had to leave at 3:30am to catch his flight. He said his last words of encouragement and then said goodbye. The girls didn’t want to see him go. As one girl started to give him a hug the whole team ran in for a group hug. Bob in the middle had a smile on his face and a tear in his eye as he was touched by the emotion brought by the team. He has helped to enhance their lives with this experience.

Bob Palmeiro has been the Region I Director since before I started playing soccer. He has seen soccer on multiple levels, been to more countries than I can count, trying to find the right opportunities for our players to play and grow. Over the years I am amazed at how Bob has helped to shape the soccer landscape in our country and help make us the power that we are in the women’s game. I have been on multiple trips with him and to see this reaction really touches your heart. You can see how much he cares about these kids. He is off to South Africa to meet our Boys team to make sure they are well taken care of as well.

Thank you Bob for all that you do to make this possible!

From the girls: Thanks for everything Bob!! We love you! Safe travels to Johannesburg!

See you tomorrow for game day!

- Big D

P.S. Thanks to Mama Ruiters. She found this link for the tournament so you can follow along if we are without Wi-Fi for a while:


Day 9:

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Hey Everyone,

Wow, today was another beautiful day! Our game against Turkey was scheduled at 1:00pm. We got to the field and started our warm up. There was a little buzz in the air but also a little air of confidence. Coach Ian and I talked about how we had already secured our place in the quarterfinals but we didn’t want the girls to become complacent. We noticed that the girls seemed ready to play.

The anthems concluded and then the girls got ready to play. We looked at their line up and noticed that Turkey didn’t play six of their starting players in our friendly last week. The game started and it was a little back and forth. Turkey did not retreat into a shell-like way like they did last time but yet they were not really going at us either. The game seemed to be a battle in the midfield. We were going back and forth and neither team got a clear chance at goal. The Turkish team brought in a center back that was dominant in the air and created a lot of problems for us, and we couldn’t seem to muster the chances we wanted in their third of the field. As the game grew, we gained more and more control of the game and pressed them. The halftime time whistle blew and we headed to the locker room.

The girls were pumped. The game was at 0-0, but had a few looks at goal by the end of the half and they were had a hard time dealing with us. We got back out and started the second half. We started to go at them and we made a few tactical changes that started showing positive signs. All of a sudden Coach Ian looked over at me, gave me a smile and I knew what to do next … we were ready for our secret weapon. We got her subbed in and within two minutes of getting on the field she received a ball down the right flank. As she started to fly by the defender, she looked up and saw that the goalkeeper looked up and noticed her. The goalie must have realized who she was judging from the sheer terror on her face! Yup, you guessed it ... Turkey got 'Schnurred'! Kristen Schnurr latched on to the ball on the flank, blew by her defender, looked up, saw the keeper frozen with terror and started to smile. She waved at the keeper and then let loose a cannon of a shot to the far post out of the keepers reach! Still smiling, she jogged over to the keeper, helped her up off the ground, patted her on the back, and said ‘good try’ in the most sincere way. She then jogged towards the team to celebrate the goal.

Immediately, Turkey made two subs to try and change the game but by the time they did it was not enough. Schnurr had a field day with their right back and we started to poke holes in their defense as they searched for the equalizer. The final whistle blew and we were through at the top spot in our group. Because of that goal we scored against Turkey, it put them in a 3-way tie to try and get in the quarterfinals. Turkey, Romania, and Krasnodar were all tied on three points with three goals for and three goals against. They went to three tie breakers and the fourth deciding factor was which team got more disciplinary cards. Turkey got three, Romania got two and so Romania went through and Turkey is out!

Now on to the quarterfinals, the matchups are:

Group A:
Ukraine vs. Romania
Krasnodar vs Israel       

Group B:
US Youth Soccer Region I vs. Estonia
Russia vs. Slovakia

I can’t wait for the action to start!

See you soon!
Big D

Day 10:

Image 10B

Hey Everyone,

Today was a light day. It is the midpoint of our tournament and time for us to get some much needed rest to gear up for the next round of the tournament. We had our normal routine in the morning to get ourselves into shape for the next game. After lunch we took a few hours to do a much needed study session and then we got some down time to just relax. Later on we headed to dinner and then before our tactical talk and video, we took a moment to head out to the beach for a few minutes as the sun set. It was a beautiful sight. We snapped some pics. Others were skipping rocks on the tranquil sea, just enjoying the day in a relaxing way.

We walked over to our meeting room and we started to watch a video. We looked to see what things we did well and what the keys of the game were. We talked a little bit about what we have to offer to each other on the team and what we feel about our team. Words like energy, courage, unity, dominate, smart, team, and others all came up. We tied them in to our personalities. Each one of us represents that powerful collection of words. When we hit the field tomorrow, we need to embody what we put on the board and show how we can, as one, become an unstoppable force and solve any problem the team on the other side of the field throws at us! Bring it on Estonia! We are ready!

Good night everyone and be ready for tomorrow! Game day!

- Big D

Day 11:

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Hey Everyone!

Today we woke up well rested. We headed to the pool in the morning for our workout. Our goalkeeper Darien really quickly said, “Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, what day is it Chris?” Without hesitation Chris at the top of his lungs yelled, “It's GGGAAMMMEEE DDDAAAAYYY!!” All the girls cheered from the pool side. It is awesome how this group has started to galvanize itself – feeding off of each other and just being a wonderful group!

We finished pool time, went to breakfast and then went directly to our meeting room to go over last minute tactics and our lineup. We were calm and confident.

We got to the field and started warming up. The Hungary team we played in the first game was there to watch us. They sat to the left of our bench; their coaches wanted to come see us play. We took the coin toss, exchanged flags, and lined up to start the game. From the kick-off we intercepted the first Estonia pass and there it begun. We were ready for this game and started to assert our dominance right away. We got a corner kick within the first five minutes of the game. In the next ten, we got seven more as we were putting them under so much pressure they were not sure what to do. We got another corner and Neville stepped up to take it. She noticed that there was about a two yard opening on the back post. She gracefully whipped a ball in there as our center back Jilly jumped, glided through the air and put her foot on the ball to redirect it in to the back of the net. We were up 1-0 in 20 minutes! Awesome! We got a few more chances in the first half - a free kick that Erin hit that nicked the crossbar (the ref had to go check to make sure it didn’t move the goal). Bike and Eva had fun destroying the backs with different tricks and flicks. After the half we didn’t want to sit back. We hoped for the win so we injected a little Schnurr into the game.

Just as we started to play our resident dancer, Jules went on a little mazy run in the midfield. She then sent a strong shot towards the goal. Well after I found out that Jules was teaching Doyle some new samba moves and Doyle was getting to know her. Doyle saw that crinkle in Jules’ eye and knew she was going for goal so she started running at the keeper. Not sure what to do, the keeper dropped the shot from Jules, and Doyle was right there to snap up the rebound and put the ball in the back of the net. 

Three minutes later we got a free kick from about 25 yards out. Neville stepped up to take it. As she did I yelled, “Eva,” and she just casually looked over her shoulder and said, “I got you Big D.” Not sure what that meant I sat down to watch things play out. Erin stepped back and then with the wrath of Zeus let go a thunderous strike that went straight at the keeper. As the keeper went to catch the ball, it hit her with such force she felt her gloves start to get hot with the fire and she was not able to hold on to it. Then what do you know, there went Eva making a run in the right place at the right time and coolly collected the rebound and slotted the ball in the back of the net.  

Ten minutes later Estonia was able to get a shot off of a corner but Brooke coolly held the ball and then started the counter attack. She drop kicked a ball about 65 yards and put it on the foot of Jenna Bike. Bikey was having fun and decided to have some more. She popped the ball over the defenders head. As she turned, she touched it back through her legs and then put her foot on the ball. The defender lunged in and Bikey touched it around her, flicked it up, and then back heeled the ball to Schnurr who just seemed like she ran from the other side of the planet. She was going so fast. Schnurr then did what she does best, ghosted past three defenders and then smashed the ball past the keeper in to the back of the net. 

The referee blew the final whistle and the teams lined up for the final handshake. The refs announced the best player of the match and to no one’s surprise it went to Shea Beans. She was just buzzing around the field making things happen in the engine department today. We finished the quarterfinals and are set to move on. Up next Russia!!!

Semifinals are now:
Ukraine vs. Krasnodar
Russia vs. US Youth Soccer Region I

What a great day! We have a training day and some sightseeing time tomorrow and then back to work to prepare for our USA vs. Russia matchup! 

**If you’re interested, our game will be streamed live on the Russian Football Union Website for all to see. Kick-off is at 4:00pm our time (8:00am EST) on Friday, March 28. The game will be streamed live here:

Have a good night everyone,

Big D

Day 12:

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Hello Everyone,

Today was a great day. When we got up this morning it was raining cats and dogs. It was cold, about 40 degrees, cloudy and wet! Yuck. We got dressed anyway and headed to the pool for our morning workout. We grabbed breakfast and then went straight to the bus for training.

Training was interesting. We started by doing a little dynamic warm-up and then jumped in to soccer tennis. Three players needed to get a little bit more of a harder work out so I volunteered and we set up a fun 2v2 game … or so I thought it would be. Maddie and Tina were against me and Seeley. We started to play and the ball spurted out to the side. I jogged over to the ball and saw that Maddie was arriving. In my head, I couldn’t wait for her to get there. I was going to show her, and everyone else watching, that I am amazing. I had a picture in my head of how things would go when we both arrived at the ball. I planned to flick it up with the outside of my shoe around her, spin off it, collect the ball on the other side and then proceed to score a goal and sing her name. Perfect, it was going to be amazing. Just as Maddie and I arrived at the ball though, I reached out to flick the ball, and Maddie dipped her shoulder, touched the ball before I did, and sent it through my legs. She jumped over my foot and then touched it in the goal.  I saw red! I got the ball and started to run at Maddie. She started to defend me. I did a little flicky thing with my foot to beat her and passed the ball to who I thought was Seeley and there was Tina. She stepped and intercepted the pass, took a touch and then coolly finished the goal. She turned and high-fived Maddie and then we started to play again.

We finished the game, went over to soccer tennis and then headed over to practice penalty kicks. I turned around to see if the coaches from Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia were all watching the Hungary vs. Turkey game, but instead they were watching us as the girls were having a great time laughing and competing while training.

We got back to the hotel, cleaned up and then went down to the center of Sochi. As we got downtown we saw the sun peeking out of the clouds. No more rain and the temperature was warming up.  We got to go inside the official Olympic shop, see statues of the mascots and we took a picture with the Olympic rings. We took some time to eat dinner down there before coming back to the hotel. It was great to get away from the tournament for a few hours and clear our heads. We got back and we had a video session and then headed to culture night.

Twelve teams were invited to this tournament including ours. We have now come down to the semifinals and we have four teams left:

  • USA/US Youth Soccer Region I vs. Russia’s U-19 National Team
  • Krasnodar Krai vs. Ukraine’s U-19 National Team

To see those four teams in the final and know what is happening around the world not only makes for good games but also makes for a unique experience. This tournament has 12 participating teams from three continents - 10 national U-19 teams, a semi-pro team and our Regional tea.

Tomorrow is a big day and sets the stage for a tremendous day of soccer and intrigue. I hope you all can join us and spread the word as the more supporters and energy we get from back home will help as this amazing group of girls continues their journey and represents us all with great class and skill! 

Have a good night everyone and hope you can catch part of our game!

-Big D

Russian Football Union Website:
Kick-off is at 4:00pm our time (8:00am EST) on 3/28/2014. On Friday, you can see the game live being streamed here:

Day 13:

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Hey Everyone,

It’s game day!!!

We woke up to the sun shining and it was about 50 degrees outside … the perfect soccer weather! We had our pool training, got breakfast, and then moved on to our pre-game meeting this morning. We have six hours to kick-off. We decided to use the beach meeting room for the scouting report and our tactical talk. After the meeting, I got all the girls towards the middle of the room and we looked out to the Black Sea. It is super clear today and you can see out for miles. There are a few ships out and as you pan left you could see the dome from the Olympic coastal village in the background. We saw the structure where the torch was held jutting up out of the ground beside it.   As all the girls were standing arm in arm I asked them, “Do you see the dome and the torch?” “Yes Big D,” they all responded. I told them, “Look at how beautiful the day is and take a moment to see and appreciate where we are in the world. Look at the torch. Do you see the light from the flame?” “No Big D, the flame is extinguished.” “Exactly,” I said. “Today we take on Russia’s U-19 team. They are fired up and want to beat us, but it’s our job to step out on the field and extinguish their flame and show them what Region I soccer is all about!” In unison they all started singing, “We ready for ya!”

Let’s go USA! We break to get dressed and head to the field! Wow that gave me chills. We are all excited for this game today!

Enjoy and wish us luck!

- Big D    



HELLO sports fans!

It is now time to take on the Russian team! We are ready. We have been focused.

We got on the bus and traveled to the stadium. The girls were quiet with an air of confidence, ready for the task at hand. We got into the locker room and I saw the girls smile as they were listening to tunes and getting themselves energized for the game. The tournament official knocked on the door and told us that the girls needed to line up. We took the field, heard the anthem, got a little chill from the excitement and then the girls took the field. The whistle blew and the game was on!

The game started out at a frenetic pace. We had the ball and were playing quicker than we would’ve liked. They were pressuring us like crazy. I watched and tried to see what they were doing and noticed they were playing an ancient formation! They had four defenders, two midfielders and four forwards. They had seen us keep major possession of the ball around our back line. We were doing it at the start of the game but they were forcing us to play quicker than we wanted to. Almost on the brink of out of control, there was a little bump, a trip and then the ball squirted out. We seemed to manage an attack on their goal and they launched the ball back to our back line and ran at us again. This happened over and over again. We had gotten three clear chances at goal. It was about the 18th minute and their center midfielder got to the ball, danced around two of our challenges at the top of the box, and then hit a brilliant shot back across the goal to the upper 90. Our goalkeeper Darien read it well and fully stretched but the ball was just out of her fingertips and went in. We got the ball and got back to the circle. We were not happy with what had just happened but we were determined to get the goal back.

Almost immediately we got a chance on a breakaway. Their keeper came out, and we hit the ball wide just missing the goal. Ugh! In the 26th minute, Russia got a corner and we cleared it easily, but we were starting to panic a little and lose control. The clock ticked on … tick, tock, tick, tock. They were trying to rattle us, trying to put us under pressure. They got a cross, and got in to our box. We came through and tried to clear it. Then one of their forwards outstretched, dived at the ball and it ricocheted off her foot and rocketed in to the back of the net. It was 0-2 in Russia’s favor. We had to climb out of that hole. The whistle blew for halftime and we went in to the locker room to regroup.

We came out in the second half with a vigor about us and a definite determination. The game was in full flow. The speed was starting to wear on them but our frustration level was growing as well. Eva got the ball on the left flank and you could tell they knew about her as four defenders descended on her right away. Unable to stop her or get the ball, a fifth player went after her to stop her from gaining ground.   We were gaining on them and they were desperately doing everything in their power to try and keep us away. We broke them down a few times and were starting to get closer to their goal, but yet we couldn’t find that finishing touch. Time was running out. The clock read 80 minutes and the referee held up one minute of stoppage time. We were all uneasy! We heard the final whistle blow and heard the Russian team erupt in cheer. We dropped to our knees with tears in our eyes and were gutted with disappointment. This game was the show piece of the tournament. We were the better team overall but in the end Russia got their tactics right and played better than us for the first 40 minutes of the game.

We walked back to the bus with the hurt shown all over our faces. We graciously got hugs from supporters that were there to see us play. Now it’s time for us to feel the hurt, regroup ourselves, and then plan for our next task - to win our next game, the 3rd/4th place game.

Until tomorrow everyone, we will see you later,

Day 14:

Image 14

Good Morning Everyone,

Today we woke up to a chill in the air. The sky was gray and covered with clouds. We walked outside to start our recovery for the day and it started to rain. It was almost as if the universe felt our pain. We hit the pool, got breakfast and then headed off to training. We wanted to go early today to have the remainder of the day to try and rest before our final game. The last of the tournament games were played today: The 7th/8th place game, the 5th / 6th place game and the last group D games. We finished training and it was absolutely pouring out when we got back on the bus. 

We took the afternoon off to get in a study hall and do some individual meetings. Over the course of the day the girls started to shake off the sting of losing the last game, and the rain subsided. As we gathered together to go outside, it was still a little chilly, reminding us of the game the day before. But the sun started to poke through the clouds. We started our last walk to the beach, a six minute walk, and along the way the mood of the girls started to raise. The sky became clear just before the sun set.

We got to the beach and saw the beauty of the Black Sea. The sky was clear and we can see out miles away. We gathered together arm in arm and took a few moments to reflect on the trip we have had so far - recalling great memories, the funny experiences, and we reflected on what each person brought to the trip. The smiles of all the girls were shinning bright while their eyes filled with tears. It was a touching moment as the sun set. We embraced overlooking a beautiful vista. We walked back to the dining hall, smiling and laughing. We were filled with the joy of being here together.

We had a meeting about tomorrow and then went off to bed. We have a job to do - finish on a high note and capture 3rd place in the bronze championship game tomorrow afternoon.

Good night everyone, as we rest our heads for the last time on this trip,
Big D 

Day 15:

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Dobre Utra (good morning),

We woke up this morning to a bright beautiful day. The air was crisp but the sun was shining bright. Today was the final day of the tournament, only the top four teams played today. We had our pre-match meeting and got on the bus to head to the field.  The girls were ready to play, energized by the fact we were playing for pride in the bronze championship game. Ukraine took on Russia for first place and we played our old friends and adversary, the Krasnodar region semi-pro team.

We got in to the locker room, and started to prepare for the game. As we began to talk to the girls about our tactics for the game, we gave them a little information about the past few days. Our last game versus Russia was live streamed on the tournament’s website, as other games from the tournament were. They were averaging about 1,400-1,600 viewers for each game. We found out our game was overloaded and we had 4,800-5,200 viewers. The girls’ eyes lit up knowing that over 3,000 people back home tried to access the game to cheer them on.  At that moment the girls paused, and took a deep breath almost as if they took in the energy of all the people back home that sent their good wishes. We walked out and I saw the girls take and focus on that energy, united as one, as they took the field.

The whistle blew and immediately the girls started to assert their dominance. We won the ball right away and started pinging it around at light speed. Within minutes we got a shot on goal that their keeper had to dive to save.

Twenty minutes had passed and we were getting stronger and stronger. Tick, tock, tick, tock … all of a sudden Schnurr blazed down the right side flying by the outside back. There were a group of young boys about 10 years old watching on the sideline. As Schnurrzy ran by, one of their hats flew off as he got caught in the wind vortex she left behind.  She then rounded the corner and entered the side of the box. She reached back and let a shot go and the keeper slapped it away. Just as the ball got knocked down, Seeley flew in to the box and coolly put0 the ball in to the back of the next. We were up 1-0 and looked unstoppable.

We won the ball right back off of the kick off and continued where we left off. We won a corner kick and Neville stepped up to take it. She sent in the corner and one of the Krasnodar defenders got her head on it and sent it to the top of the box . . . but we had the McCracken coming! Maddie flew in, and with a thunderous strike hit the ball on the half volley and sent it like a searing lightning bolt in to the back of the net! We were now up 2-0, awesome.

Again we won the ball back right away and put the pressure on. Schnurrzy blazed down the right and put a ball to Seeley as she entered the box. Seeley received the ball, shimmied past a defender, and then hit a strike on goal. Again the goalkeeper could not handle it and she redirected it but it was still traveling goal bound. Tina was playing on the right and saw the ball slowing down. She ran and smashed the ball in. She screamed and smiled. We looked at the clock, 3-0, and all scored in the last seven minutes; awesome again.

The half concluded and the girls jogged to the locker room not showing an ounce of fatigue. They came back out in the second half and had the same fire they left with. Five minutes in, we felt like we would get the win. Schnurr kept running, gliding past us causing a dust storm on the sidelines. She got a ball, beat a few defenders and connected with Shea-Bean. Shea-Bean skipped by a defender and then gracefully put a ball across the box for Doyle who calmly put it in the net … 4-0.

The final whistle blew and we won 3rd place. It was not the original goal, since we had set out to win the tournament, but we can hold our heads high, proud of how we played our final game.

We watched the final match between Ukraine and Russia. Russia went up 3-0 in the first 20 minutes. I believe we would have been a better match for them but fate was written this way.  Ukraine scored two goals in the second half, both by lucky breaks and brilliant individual efforts by two of their players. The game ended and Russia won the title on a 3-2 win. Then, we all proceeded to the field for the closing ceremonies.  

The dancers took the field. The music and celebration began.  We were celebrating the tournament but also the advancement of women’s soccer around the world. They announced the best players of the tournament. Russia’s goalie won best keeper, only allowing two goals throughout the entire tournament. Best forward went to someone from the Ukraine team; she also got the golden boot. Best midfielder went to a girl from Israel, and the best defender of the tournament went to our very own Payton Cook. She walked up with the background cheers of support from our team. We are so proud of her. There were a few ceremonial speeches and then our team walked up to get our medals and trophy. Pictures followed and then there were hugs and tears. All the teams walked off the field for the last time and we headed back to the hotel.

Tonight we had our last cultural night, our last dinner, and then we packed to go home. This has been an unbelievable trip. The girls walked away, heads held high with Region I pride.

Until later everyone, as we now start to pack our things for our travel home.

Big D  


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