Day 1: Getting to Virginia was definitely an adventure for the U17 ECNL RAGE team. It's safe to say that waking up at 3:30 AM was not very fun for anybody. The first group of fliers made it to Virginia around 5:00 PM, which was actually not too bad. However, the real adventure began once they got to the first hotel, which did not have the correct reservations for the team. After unpacking their luggage at the first hotel, Group 1 was told they were actually changing hotels and had to repack all their belongings and move hotels. After waiting around at the first hotel for about an hour, the group of girls, Mrs. Nicholas, and Mrs. Scheid finally made it to the Westin Hotel after enjoying Chipotle for dinner. The Westin Hotel was very kind in letting the RAGE team stay here for the weekend since they wouldn't normally do so for a large team of minors. Group 2 of fliers finally made it to Virginia after a two hour flight delay in the Atlanta, Georgia airport. It may seem like a long time to be stuck in an airport, but the girls and coaches were able to occupy themselves well with a wheelchair and a couple if soccer balls. Group 2 also went to Chipotle for dinner and then joined up with the rest of the group at the hotel afterwards. The RAGE team finished off the night with a team meeting outside where they discussed how excited they were and how blessed they were to be here in Virginia for NATIONAL'S! Go Rage!!
Day 2 in Virginia July 10, 2013
This morning we woke up and ate breakfast at Einstein Brothers Bagel Shop. From there, we went to a park to do a short workout. We warmed up, practiced short passing, and jogged around the grass, just to get us moving after a long day of traveling yesterday to prepare for our intensely hot and humid games tomorrow. Due to these conditions, we were all excessively sweating only after a brief workout, but our team has been able to play well in extreme conditions, so I’m sure we will adjust well tomorrow. After the workout, we came back to the hotel to relax before the Rivah Draw at Brown’s Island. At the draw we quickly learned about Virginia’s unpredictable weather. On our way there, it was hot and sticky, but while we were waiting in the vans to be checked in by our chaperones, a torrential downpour began to occur. It rained excessively for 20 minutes, but luckily and weirdly began to subside and eventually ended with the sun returning. After the rain cleared up, we walked into the draw. As a team, we crossed a bridge and walked down a red carpet, which was unfortunately soaked by the rain, although it was still a great, once in a lifetime experience. After the red carpet, we had roughly 40 minutes before the draw started, so we roamed around the area looking at the different types of food and the ECNL shirts for sale. As everyone was wandering around, the rain started again! It was humorous to see girls screaming and sprinting for cover behind the stage, under tents, and anywhere else they could find shelter. After that storm passed, everyone was soaked, but ready to start the draw. During the draw, we sat and listened as three people (one of them being the U.S. Women’s National team coach-Tom Sermani!) drew team names and announced the groups each team was in and whom they would play against. For each age group and league, there was a Group A and Group B. After the draw, we bought food from the various vendors, listened to the live band, and took A LOT of pictures. It was a very fun and exciting evening, and everyone is focused and motivated to start the tournament tomorrow.
DAY 3: July 11, 2013
We woke up this morning to have breakfast together. We soon after loaded the vans and headed towards the field. When we arrived at the soccer complex, which was surrounded by beautiful forests, we quickly put on all our gear. But we were pleasantly interrupted by the presence of legendary Mia Hamm!! We were fortunate enough to be able to pictures with her before the start of our game. As we began warm ups, we noticed the severely wet conditions in which we were going to play in. Drenched in sweat and rain, the whistle blew to begin the game.
In the first half, we started off with a few opportunities to score, but our lack of experience in a Championship match displayed it self in our undisciplined play. It was a struggle to rebound after an unfortunate own goal. However, with some positive momentum we were able to put the ball in the back of the net off a beautiful corner and header. It seemed as though we couldn’t maintain our momentum giving up three corners and a goal within five minutes of our equalizer. At the end of the first half, we left the field with a score of 2-1.
Unfortunately the mentality did not change when we began the second half. The other team put away a goal early, making it an even bigger challenge to get the upper hand. All in all, our team failed to perform to our usual standards. The final score was 5-1, adequately reflecting the other team’s determination and versatility and our lack of discipline and focus.
The loss was a great learning experience, fueling our reflection on what we need to do to be better prepared for tomorrow’s game. We came together as a team and talked about how we personally felt we played and why we performed the way we did. It proved to be beneficial in uplifting our spirits and passion for the game.
Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent. We wont give up. We are RAGE.
Day 4: July 12, 2013
After our first game yesterday, we woke up a little bit sore but also refreshed this morning. We joined each other for breakfast at 8 and then soon after headed off to the fields. Due to the weather conditions we were sent to play at different fields today than yesterday, thankfully. The fields we got to play on today were beautiful turf fields so this was a major step up compared to the muddy fields we battled through yesterday.
Although we had to complete our warm up on the side of these fields in the mud, we still managed to prepare ourselves for our game perfectly. We started the game out in a different formation than yesterday because we thought it would help open up more space in the middle. Initially it did open some space up for some of the midfielders, however there was some confusion on the field regarding who was marking who so we switched back to the formation we are most comfortable with—a 4-3-3. After battling for 45 minutes, we finished the first half of the game tied up. We entered the second half strong, but the other team capitalized on our mistake and put one in on us. We knew that we could come back and score a goal and tie it up with this team but we lost composure for a little and they scored again. After their second goal, we knew we had nothing to lose so we switched our formation to a 3-5-2. We had a few shots cross right in front of the net and even hit the post, but we couldn’t seem to find the net so we ended the game with a loss of 2-0.
We came back to the hotel and had an in-depth team meeting discussing what we need to do to make sure we perform to our highest potential as a team. We came to the conclusion that each and everyone one of us needed to face our flaws and learn from them individually. If each of us were able to identify our mistakes and learn from them then it would make us a better team as a whole.
Even though we had another loss today, we knew we did a lot better than our first game and we learned a lot more too. Being here at Nationals and facing teams with such great skills gives us the opportunity to learn continuously and we will keep fighting because we don’t quit. We are Rage.
Day 5: July 13, 2013
On most ECNL trips, we are often forced to fit a days worth of adventure within a couple hours after finishing a hard-fought game. During the finals, however, we were given a day off where we had the opportunity to check out some of the more historic parts of Virginia, a state that is well aware of its impact on our country’s history.
Since it was a day off, we were able to sleep in a little more than usual, something everyone was thankful for. We started off the day by driving an hour to the city of Williamsburg, the pancake house capital of the world. It was one of those things you don’t notice until someone tells you, so once we were told we started spotting the several pancake houses that dotted either side of the town’s main street.
We ended up eating at Astronomical Pancake House for a Saturday brunch where the pancakes were as large as the plate they came in. After some great food and even better conversation (Did you guys know that in a former life Philippe was a fire fighter?) we headed out to see the main attraction.
Williamsburg was a town full of surprises, because most of us were expecting to see some colonial exhibits and a couple of era-appropriate shops. What we found was a vibrant community that thrives on embracing its past and sharing its pride with all of its many visitors. We spent a couple hours walking through the fickle east coast rain and heat seeing everything from the church of Williamsburg that several of our founding fathers would frequent to the gourmet candy shop that lies right outside the College of William and Mary.
By the time we finished, we were extremely tired, sore, and beyond ready to start making our way back to the hotel. After a quick stop at the hotel, we headed back out to the Firebirds Grill where we had our own designated menu with choices of the restaurant’s best food. Everything we ordered was delicious and the service was excellent.
We finished up our day with a team meeting that was a lot shorter than the ones we had in the past two days. We outlined our plan for tomorrow’s game and stressed the importance of continuing to play hard despite there not being an opportunity to win a national championship. We know the only option is to work hard and continue to represent the name Pleasanton RAGE.
Day 6: July 14, 2013
Today came with a bright and early start. The sun was out, and it was warming up quickly. We had a bagel breakfast, prepared to take on the challenges of the coming day. The team we were going to be facing was Challenge FC. The team was pumped and ready to show them who Rage really was. The temperature on the turf was stifling, but we were undeterred. The first half of the match was a lot of back and forth between Challenge and us. We maintained decent possession in our defensive third, but struggled to build up in to the attack. We started off much stronger this game than the two previous games of the tournament. With a strong offensive effort by Pooja Patel, she dribbled through multiple defenders and fired a shot far post. It unfortunately hit the post and the half ended scoreless. We came in to the second half strong and got many opportunities on goal. It was a much more attacking style than the first half. Our goal came half way through, with a great goal by Jessica Jocheim off of a well-struck corner. The tying goal by Challenge came about a minute later off of a foul in our defensive third. We had a few more offensive efforts near the end of the game, but it still remained a tie. The final score was 1-1. It was a well-fought game and we never gave up. April Heinrichs, the Director of Player Development for US Soccer and the U18 Women’s National Coach, was watching our game. Brielle Preece got to meet her and get feedback from her about her game. It is so great that through ECNL players can be exposed to not only fantastic collegiate soccer opportunities, but to national and regional coaching staff as well.
After water therapy and a Panera lunch, the team bummed around and relaxed for a few hours. It was nice to relax in the air conditioning after the humidity of the morning game. Dinner today was at Quaker Steak and Lube, a racecar themed restaurant. We had a team meeting to talk about the game after dinner. These meetings have been a key asset to discussing what the team can work on and voicing your opinion in a team setting. We’ve learned a lot about each other this past week, and have come far as a team. It is a blessing and a privilege to be participating in this National event. Our last game is tomorrow; our last game with our seniors, our last game in Virginia, and our last game to show them what a Northern California team can do. Tomorrow, no matter what place we get or rank we end up with, we will be proud to say that we came here and gave it our all. We left everything we had on that field and proved that we deserved to be here. This has been an amazing opportunity that we’re sure will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Tomorrow we will play our best, our hardest and be proud of what we have achieved in Richmond, Virginia. Let’s show ‘em, Rage!
FINAL DAY: JULY 15, 2013
Today was the final day of our trip to Virginia. We woke up at the hotel, sore and tired but ready to play in our last match against Atlanta Fire. This morning we had a light breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and headed out, back to the grass fields for our game. We were now playing for 7th place in the U17 ECNL North American League. As we warmed up for our game, we were surrounded by high energy games, with all of them being some kind of championship or consolation game. The time slowly wound down on the game before us, and we made our final official walk on. The whistle blew and the game began.
From the beginning the game was back and forth possession, each team having multiple opportunities in front of the net. Towards the end of the half, the other team held the ball more, putting us on our heals. After about thirty-five minutes into the first half, the opposing team had a free kick in the far left corner of the 18 yard box. It was a great ball in and it scrambled around and they finished it. The sideline ref was calling it offsides but the center ref insisted that it was not offsides so it was called a goal. We struggled to finish up the half, and regroup at half time. With nothing to lose, we changed to a highly offensive formation, leaving us with three in the back and a whopping four forwards! With high penetration from the opposition and us being vulnerable in the back, Atlanta sunk two quick goals on us. Raising our spirits, we turned around, added a fourth defender to our back line, and started our attack. We quickly scored from a fast buildup from the midfield to the forwards, resulting in a shot to the side netting. Determined as ever, we pushed for another right away. With a cross from the right side and a scramble in the box, we were able to finish. Thirsty for a tying goal, we dominated for the next twenty minutes, creating many chances but were unable to find the net. Then Atlanta separated the difference with another goal from a counter attack. The final minutes of the game consisted of us pushing to find another goal, and Atlanta trying to waste away the minutes. We had many free kicks but couldn't finish any of them. The game ended with a disappointing 4-2 loss.
Despite the scores we got this weekend, our team as a whole bonded and learned more than we could ever imagine from our time here in Virginia. Becoming a national champion takes nothing less than constant hard work, dedication, and drive and we are determined now more than ever to fight to earn our spot in the finals again next year. As for our seniors, it was a great way to end their last year at the club soccer level and with the Rage program!
After leaving the fields for the last time, we headed back to the hotel, showered up, and had a delicious lunch at Chilis. Then we were off to the airport for our long flight home. Virginia has been an amazing experience for us all but it is safe to say we are all ready to head back home. California we're coming for you!