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Local Players Realize World Cup Dreams With U.S. U17 Boys National Team
Holding midfielder. Or forward. Nick Palodichuk doesn’t mind playing either position.
He’ll take goal-scoring opportunities wherever they come.
For Palodichuk, one such opportunity came early last month at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. And he was ready for it, heading home the game-tying goal early in the second half of a knockout game against Italy before the Italians eventually went on to a 2-1 victory.
"There’ s not much more you can ask for," said the 17-year-old Palodichuk, a native of Battle Ground in Southwest Washington who has been part of the U.S. Soccer U-17 men’s residency program in Bradenton, Fla., since February. "You’re playing one of the top teams in the world, and you score on them."
Palodichuk, from Camas High School, was one of two Washington players who made the trip to Africa for the biannual event. He was joined by goalkeeper Spencer Richey, a Seattle resident who attended Roosevelt High School before heading to Bradenton in January 2008. Richey didn’t see any minutes during the four games, but that didn’t take away from his experience of being there.
"It's definitely a high-level tournament," said Richey, a veteran of coach Bernie James’ Crossfire Premier program. "I didn’t think there was a team there that we couldn’t play against. Spain was the strongest team we played. They got red-carded early, but they came back and beat us (2-1 in the opening game of group play)."
The U.S. split its four games in Nigeria. The Americans bounced back from the opening loss to Spain and beat Malawi, 1-0, and United Arab Emirates, 1-0, finishing group play with a 2-1 record, and advancing to face Italy in the first round of knockout play.
"It was a pretty amazing experience," said Palodichuk, a product of Washington Premier and coach Jimmy McAlister. "It was a good environment and a good atmosphere. I’ve never experienced that in the U.S. as much."
For Palodichuk and Richey, getting to play the game halfway around the world in Nigeria first meant leaving home and playing the game clear across the United States in Florida as part of the residency program.
"It’s a lot of responsibility," said the 17-year-old Richey, who will complete his high school studies and graduate on Dec. 17 with a 3.7 grade-point average. "You have to be all of this and this and this -- and no parents. You have to take a lot of stuff on your own shoulders."
Added Palodichuk, who started all four games in Nigeria, "Coming here (to residency) was a big adjustment, leaving my family. But they accept you, and you become part of the team.
"It’s like having a bunch of brothers."
While Palodichuk has always been either a holding midfielder or a forward, Richey hasn’t always been a goalkeeper. Matter of fact, he has been playing in the for just five years.
That makes him similar to many other top-flight keepers who somehow never pictured themselves making a career between the pipes.
"It’s like a movie story," Richey said, laughing a bit. "I was 12, and I was playing in a tournament in Yakima with Emerald City. It went to a shootout, and our goalkeeper got hurt right before the shootout. The coach asked who was the best basketball player on the team."
Richey stepped forward, "and I’ve been there ever since."
Next stop will be the U-20 camp later this month. Palodichuk and Richey already are looking forward to that next challenge. Richey is hoping it will be as beneficial to his career as his time spent in the U-17 program.
"It definitely has been a positive experience for me in terms of soccer," he said. "And it makes you mature a lot faster."
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