XF Girls Take Flight on European Tour

It may have been the first journey to Europe for Crossfire GU-13 ECNL, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching the girls take apart their heralded European opponents game after game.

As the youngest Crossfire girls’ team to travel internationally thus far, the group took to the pitch for their first match unsure of what to expect. They returned home unbeaten, untied, and more confident than ever. From international debutants to a mature, experienced side—all in just over a week’s time.

Setting out on a whirlwind tour that took the team through three countries in eight days, with four matches versus top European competition, training sessions with national team and professional club staffs, and a host of cultural and sightseeing activities on the docket, the trip promised to be a once-in-lifetime opportunity—and it certainly delivered.

The custom international tour was organized by Crossfire staff and the club’s partner, AcademyTrips.com, and it was designed to provide the XF 2006 ECNL team a diverse range of activities and experience in the Netherlands, Belgium and France throughout one action-packed November week. Recognizing that each team’s needs differ depending on their age, relative experience and competitive level, as well as developmental goals unique to each group, Crossfire Director Bernie James explained that the club works hard to ensure the trips are organized to provide maximum benefit for everyone involved.

“These international tours provide us an unrivalled opportunity to augment our players’ development,” James said. “It’s a chance for players to compete at the highest standard in the world, that much is obvious. But we also recognize there’s a great opportunity here to help our young men and women grow as people. Whether touring a world-famous museum or important historical site, engaging in social activities with their peers from other countries, or taking the field against a top team from the Netherlands or France, there’s something to be gained for our kids, and all of it can add up to make a big difference down the road.”

To begin, the team enjoyed a canal tour of Amsterdam, a stop at the Anne Frank House and a guided trip through the Johan Cruijff ArenA, home to AFC Ajax. After a training session with Jessica Torny and Alex van Roessel, both coaches for the Netherlands Under-19 Women’s National Team, Crossfire took on SC Buitenveldert, one of the most well-respected clubs in Holland when it comes to developing young female players.

A resounding 6-0 win sent Crossfire on their way, and was a sign of things to come.

Leaving the Dutch capital, the team travelled to Rotterdam for the next leg of their trip, where they trained with coach Stephan Vos from ADO Den Haag before taking on one of the largest clubs in Holland, Feyenoord. A 5-0 win under the lights in the club’s primary youth stadium was the perfect end to their time in the country.

As an aside, all the team’s games while on the tour were filmed and live-streamed on Crossfire’s MyCujoo.tv channel, so friends, families and fans back home could watch all the action as it happened.

After traveling across the border to Belgium, XF took on KAA Gent in a game that ended 4-0 in Crossfire’s favor. After the game, Gent put on a spaghetti dinner in their clubhouse for the American players and traveling families.

Following their brief visit to Belgium, the group packed up and headed to Paris, where they toured the Stade de France, home of the current World Cup Champion Men’s National Team. That evening, the team took on mega-club Paris Saint-Germain, defeating them 5-1 to finish with a record of 4-0 on the trip. The game was played at PSG’s massive training complex, which was certainly a highlight, as the players got to see where some of the biggest stars in the world train daily. Afterwards, the PSG girls invited the Crossfire players for a social event in the club’s facilities, where everyone enjoyed mixing and learning more about each other’s daily culture.

The final day in Paris saw the players tour the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame de Paris, among other sightseeing highlights in France’s capital.

“It was an unbelievable experience for the team,” reported Coach Steve Crum, who led the group on the trip. “They were able to play against some of the top European clubs and perform quite well. The players got to experience playing in world-class facilities with great atmospheres, not to mention playing against different styles.”

Ella Witherspoon, a forward on the team, agreed. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she explained. “The experience pushed me as a player and taught me so many new things. It was also amazing to meet girls our age from a different culture.”

Carly Rusak echoed Ella’s comments, adding, “I enjoyed playing against the European girls because they have different ways to move the ball forward and also pressure us when we have the ball. It was also really fun to be with the European players after the games because we got to experience a different culture and language.”

Comments were similar across the board, as the players soaked up the entire experience. “It was so great to have this chance to train with amazing coaches and play these great teams,” Helena Braathen added. “This was an awesome trip and an amazing time—and I know it also will help me in my soccer career!”

Ikhlas Patel summed things up for most, stating, “The culture, diversity and the pasta I experienced were amazing! It’s like a dream that I never want to wake up from!”

Now back stateside, Coach Crum says the experience remains fresh in the players’ minds, and notes that everyone has returned eager to go back. “AcademyTrips.com did a tremendous job putting together the itinerary, and then keeping everything organized and professional once we were there. I would send another group over in a minute.”

In addition to competing in the top leagues and tournaments across the United States, Crossfire Premier will send more than 10 teams to Europe for elite competition in the next 10 months. Learn more at www.crossfiresoccer.org and follow the club on Twitter @crossfireprmr and Instragram at crossfire.premier.

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