Hailed as the world’s greatest sporting event, the quadrennial World Cup of men’s soccer will be over by the time July 27 rolls along. But for a group of girls soccer players from the Northeast, the international adventure will be just starting.
Members of Montco Select will depart that day for Limerick, Ireland, to compete against some of the best age-group players from the Republic and Britain in the weeklong Emerald Cup. Although their organization is based in Montgomery County, Northeast residents will comprise a large portion of the 36-player roster, according to head coach Max Manstein.
Montco Select will field a 17 and under (U17) side, as well as a 14 and under (U14) side. Several local high schools will be represented on the squads, such as St. Hubert, Archbishop Ryan and Franklin Towne Charter, as will area club programs including Fox Chase, Parkwood, Lighthouse and Philadelphia S.C.
“We started three years ago as a select team for the area, then we made contact with the University of Limerick, who offered us the opportunity to play in their tournament. We thought it was a great idea to promote girls soccer in general in the U.S.,” Manstein said. “Many girls have not had the opportunity to play overseas and play against international players.”
This is not to say that the local girls aren’t as capable as any they will encounter across the Atlantic. The two Montco Select sides are essentially all-star teams, with players retaining membership in their neighborhood clubs. Coaches chose the squads through a competitive tryout process. They will train together throughout the spring and early summer and are scheduled to compete in several warm-up tournaments in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.
In this rare melting pot of area soccer talent, girls like Maddie Feeney, 14, of Lafayette Hill and St. Philip Neri Catholic School, will rub elbows with Gianna Azcona, 14, of Jenkintown and Abington Junior High, along with Dominique Calio, 15, of the Northeast and St. Hubert High.
“They get to play with girls from all different areas and backgrounds,” Manstein said.
About 50 parents are expected to chaperone the trip. Most families will be able to foot the bill on their own, but others will need some help, which is why the club is actively seeking sponsors.
“There are a lot of girls who do not come from the best financial situations. So we’re looking for any corporate sponsors or individual sponsors that can help these girls take advantage of an opportunity that may be once in a lifetime,” Manstein said.
For others, the trip could be the start of something much, much greater. Feeney is one of several current Montco players who made the same trip last year. Her U13 side placed second, losing the championship game, 2-1, in stoppage time (that’s the time a referee adds to the end of a soccer game to account for earlier stoppages in live play).
“It was my first time in another country. The teams were competitive, so it was a good tournament,” Feeney said. “We held our own and got unlucky in the championship game.”
“Our girls were a little more physically aggressive, fit and technically better, but I think the other teams were more organized on the field,” Manstein said. “It was a little different than what [we’re] used to seeing. They kept their shape very well.”
The memorable experiences weren’t limited to the competition.
“We [trained] with some Italian boys and they are really good and really fast, so it helped us get better,” Feeney said.
The Montco U13s had such a good experience last year that organizers have facilitated similar groups from the New York and Boston areas, who will travel with the Philly-area squads. Next year, Montco Select is planning to enter several boys teams. Tryouts for the 2015 trip will be held this May 10 at Abington Friends School.
This year’s girls entries are scheduled to play four games each, with many of Ireland’s top collegiate coaches monitoring the action. In that nation, students start college at roughly age 16, two years younger than in the United States.
“They have professional trainers over there and we have had girls offered college scholarships over there,” Manstein said. Azcona hopes to be one of them.
“I hope other teams notice me more than they do now,” she said. “I want to work and get better and train with better players.”
Calio dreams of getting paid to play someday.
“I’ve always said that when I grow up I want to go pro,” she said. “So traveling to another country, hopefully it’s something I’ll get used to. I want to play my sport all over the world.” ••
For information about sponsorship and participation in the Montco Select program, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Girls soccer camps
In conjunction with their preparations for the 2014 Emerald Cup, Montco Select has partnered with several Irish professional women’s players and national team members to offer three week-long camps this summer.
The camps will be held at St. Hilary of Poitiers School in Rydal starting July 7, Falls Soccer Club starting July 14 and Torresdale Boys Club starting July 21. Camps run five hours per day for five consecutive days. Girls from U10 to U16 age groups are eligible. The cost is $200 per player and includes a camp T-shirt and soccer ball.
The all-women coaching staff includes Stephanie Roche, Clare Kinsella, Yvonne Tracy, Emma Donohue and Claire Young. Visit irishsoccercamps.com for information.