Red, White and Blue
Seven girls in Washington Youth Soccer’s Elite Player Development program were among the 56 called up to U.S. Youth National Team U14 and U17 camps this fall.
By Brian Beaky
Just about every serious soccer player has, at one point or another, let their minds wander and imagined themselves representing their country. For three Washington Youth Soccer players, that dream is about to become a reality — and for four more, that first call could be right around the corner.
Seven Washington Youth Soccer players were among the select few called up to U.S. Youth National Team camps at the U14 and U17 age groups in September, giving each the chance to showcase their skills at a national — and international — level. Only Cal-South boasted more invitees, with nine; no other state had more than six, and just five states total sent even five girls to camps last month.
Notably, all seven of the Washington Youth Soccer players selected — including U17s Kelcie Hedge (Post Falls, Idaho/Washington Premier FC), Lauren Rood (Camas, Wash./Washington Timbers) and Madison Schultz (Edmonds, Wash./Northwest Nationals) and U14s Jojo Harber (Bellevue, Wash./Eastside FC), Zoe Milburn (Maple Valley, Wash./Eastside FC), Anna Smith (Issaquah, Wash./Crossfire FC) and Kelsey Turnbow (Liberty Lane, Wash./Crossfire FC) — are current and former players in Washington Youth Soccer’s Elite Player Development (EPD) program, designed to provide the state’s most skilled players with a world-class training environment that shares the values and vision of U.S. Soccer, Washington Youth Soccer.
Washington Youth Soccer EPD mimics the U.S. National Team programs - where the top players are selected from their club programs and brought together to train and compete. While the club environment is where the majority of growth and development will happen for players, the experience of playing EPD and learning to compete with unfamiliar teammates and coaches helps prepare players for success on the international level.
Rood — who, along with Hedge and Schultz, will be a part of the 20-player U.S. U-17 National Team competing at the 2014 CONCACAF Championships in Montego Bay, Jamaica, later this month, says that the EPD program has played a significant role in the success of Washington Youth Soccer’s players at the National Team camps.
Goalkeeper Lauren Rood
“The EPD program provided a professional atmosphere to prepare me for the National Team,” she says. “It removed the parent aspect of a travel team and required us to be independent and allowed us to hold ourselves accountable on and off the field.”
Hedge agrees: “EPD has helped me learn to adapt and adjust to new teammates and coaches,” she says. “It has also helped me step up my speed of play, therefore helping me prepare for the next level.”
Schultz adds that the EPD program not only helped her improve tactically and technically, but provided a base of support in all areas of her game, giving her the confidence to succeed at the National level.
"It helped me to develop a lot of the skills I have needed on and off the field. It was the first place that I experienced traveling with a team, and competing against clubs from other parts of the country," says the 15-year-old Edmonds native. "Most of all, it helped me to learn how to play with other people that I didn’t know very well. I also had some of the best coaches in the state who helped me become a better player and who still support me today. I feel like I have been supported by the entire soccer community in Washington and it has made the process much more enjoyable.”
At September’s camps, the U14 and U17 players were given the chance to test their skills against and alongside the top youth players in the United States, under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Youth National Team coaching staffs. In addition to the on-field instruction and competition, one of the highlights of each camp is the opportunity to meet and make friends with like-minded players from across the country — players who will one day form the core of the next-generation U.S. Women’s National Team.
“This is the first year I’ve been involved with the National Team,” says Hedge, a forward who has made appearances for both the U15 and U17 National Teams this year, and scored her first international goal for the U17s in England this summer. “Every camp has been amazing, but this last camp was absolutely the best so far. I feel I am growing and developing as a player and an individual. It has been an amazing journey since day one!”
Fourteen-year-old Harber, who won the US Youth Soccer National Championship with her club team, Eastside FC 98 Red, in July, says that receiving the invitation to September’s U14 National Team camp was nearly as exciting.
“I saw the invitation on my mom’s e-mail one day after school. I was in awe and it was one of the greatest feelings in the world. I was honored to be selected for this group and I wanted to thank all of my coaches for helping me get there,” she says. “Camp was a blast because I was able to play with other high-level soccer players, learn from them, and make friendships with them. I enjoyed meeting girls from all over the nation that share the love of the game just like I do.”
Rood says that the CONCACAF Championships in Jamaica later this month, where the U.S. girls will meet the top youth squads from throughout North and Central America and the Caribbean — will be much more than simply another opportunity to “show.”
“I feel extremely happy that my hard work has paid off, but I know I still have a long way to go and many improvements still to be made,” says Rood, who, like Hedge, has been a fixture at National Team camps throughout the year. “I feel very honored to represent my country and U.S. Women’s Soccer for this age group. Wearing those uniforms means a lot more than looking ‘cool.’ That crest not only represents the sport I play, but the country I play for, and all the hard work this team puts into achieving its goals.”
Michelle Akers, Shannon Higgins, Lori Henry, Amy Allman, Hope Solo, Tina Frimpong. The history of Washington Youth Soccer is littered with names of players who, like this year’s talented seven, were once Washington teenagers tapped by elite national coaches to represent their country. All seven went on to claim World Cup or Olympic gold medals. The future for this year’s group is every bit as bright.