Region I U-17 ODP Team Wins In Sochi
If you are going halfway around the world to play in a soccer tournament, you might as well go to win it.
That’s exactly what the US Youth Soccer Girls U-17 Region I team did earlier this month!
Ninteen players, including five from Virginia, competed in the Kuban Spring Tournament in Sochi, Russia, and came home with championship medals.
They also came from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York (East and West), Maryland and Pennsylvania West. Two joined the team from Europe.
Alyson Brown, Payton Cook and Alani Johnson play together in the Virginia Champions League with the Richmond Kickers. Kylie Hegemier plays in the VCCL with the Richmond Strikers, and Herndon’s Amber Sterns plays in the Region I Premier League.
Goalkeeper Megan Hinz was Maryland’s player on the squad that began a two-week trip to Russia on March 2.
Head coach was Ken Krieger, the Region I U-19 head coach and father of U.S. WNT defender Ali Krieger.
Assistant coach Darren Marshall provided a travel blog of the tournament adventure.
The team, representing the U.S. in the tournament draw, opened the competition against the host Russia. With the game scoreless five minutes into extra time, Connecticut’s Rachel Ugolik broke free and scored in the 84th minute to win the game 1-0.
What followed in group play was a 2-2 draw with Turkey, and another 2-2 tie against Slovakia, behind a pair of Ugolik goals. The win and two ties won the group for the U.S.
In the quarterfinals the U.S. team drew 1-1 with Krasnoder, with New York West’s Emma Firenze getting the equalizer on a second-half diving header.
The game goes directly to penalty kicks, which the Region I team wins as Hinz makes two big saves on PK shots. With the win, it is on to the semifinals against Iran, which had eliminated Turkey in the quarters.
And here is where it gets a bit weird! As the U.S. team watched Iran beat Turkey, it seemed that the winners looked a bit older than the Turks. In fact, they were.
Needng a team to complete the field, the tournament had accepted Iran’s full national team. Their ages ranged from 19-31. One forward, clearly the best on the team, a ‘woman among girls”, had scored three times against Turkey.
After battling a cold rain storm in the quarters, the semifinals were played on a sunny day, 60 degrees and hardly a cloud in the sky.
The tone was set early, when Iran’s #7 beat three Region I defenders 20 minutes into the game and ripped a shot that looked like a sure goal. Connecticut’s Drien Dunham, in goal, saved the shot and kept the game scoreless for the full regulation.
PKs again and with the U.S. up 4-3, Dunham faced down Iran’s star striker, deflected the kick away from the goal and set up the scenerio for Krystina Iordanou (Eastern NY) to win it with Region I’s fifth and final kick. Which she did!
And how did it all end?
For the third straight game, the U.S. went to penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw against Ukraine.
Third time’s the charm…the young Americans won the shootout 4-2 and the championship.
They brought home the medals, a lot of experience, and a wealth of memories of springtime in Russia.