San Diego’s Albion SC and Puma Send Girls Team To Sweden
Player Development is more than a trendy term for top quality youth soccer clubs. Albion SC and the GU16 USA team exemplify successful player development. The elite team has just returned from competing internationally in Sweden earlier this month. Coach Noah Kooiman and his team of top female youth players define success on the field with grit and determination.
In 2005 a group of girls gathered together to play as a GU9 squad playing at the Bronze level for Arsenal SC in the Coast Soccer League (CSL). That team, coached over their entire career by Noah Kooiman, now plays for San Diego’s elite Albion Soccer Club as the GU16 USA team. Over their eight years, these girls have seen success at every level, including CSL, Cal South and Far West Regional League. More recently they took top honors playing up at the Disney PUMA Showcase in Orlando, Florida. In mid-October, this elite team traveled to Sweden to compete internationally courtesy of PUMA.
“What an experience is all I can say,” says Coach Kooiman. “I brought 16 player together from San Diego and the Inland Empire to create this dynamite team. Before we blinked an eye we were in Orlando playing are first game at Disney World ESPN Sports Complex! The team got better every game, and before you knew it we put some amazing passes together on the field and found the net. Our players earned a 2-1 victory and were rewarded with an amazing trip to Sweden!”
Noah Gins, Technical Director of Albion Soccer Club says, “To have PUMA send our Albion SC players to Sweden was yet another amazing perk of being with PUMA. This is the third International trip PUMA has sponsored for our youth soccer teams to travel and compete internationally.”
“Sweden was an amazing experience for the girls! The professional women’s soccer club. Umea, were so welcoming to my parents and players! We were immersed into an all-girls, professional PUMA soccer club! Our players were training and playing like real pro soccer players. It was an amazing experience for player development,” says Kooiman.
While soccer is rapidly becoming more popular in America, the world’s most beautiful game is perhaps best experienced abroad where the world revolves around this singularly spectacular sport. Gins says, “It is an amazing opportunity to travel in Europe. Our GU16 players benefited immensely from the experience and exposure to professional teams abroad.”
What is this team’s special story? Looking back, Kooiman may have had a feeling about that initial group of girls. After winning their division at Bronze in CSL, they moved to the top division of their age group. Two years later, at U11, the team won the Cal South State Cup, defeating San Diego Surf GU11 White to earn the crown. It would be the first of many championships for the team at the state level and higher.
As a U12 team the girls were finally eligible to move beyond Southern California and make a run for the Far West Regional championships. In order to do that, they would have to repeat as Cal South champions, this time in the National Cup competition at their new age level. It was a rocky year for the team – while they had success at a number of regional tournaments, injuries sapped their strength and dimmed their hopes of reaching the top again. But this was a team that would not quit, and with Kooiman leading the girls pressed on. Making their way against solid opponents and difficult field and weather conditions, the girls reached the finals against Slammers FC. At the end of the match the team had defeated Slammers 3-1 and earned their trip to Far West Regionals in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For the girls it was a new experience. They had rarely traveled much outside of Southern California, and never outside of the state as a team. But this team was determined not to let the opportunity pass without giving their all. Facing some of the top U12 teams from around the West – including Colorado, Hawaii and Washington – the girls played above and beyond what might have been expected. In the end, they edged out a quality side from Real Colorado to earn their first Far West Regional championship. It would not be their last.
To make a return to the Far West Regionals the then-Arsenal GU13s would have to pull off a third Cal South championship against increasingly tough competition. The team charged through the CSL season winning Gold Division and several top tournaments leading up to National Cup. Once again they faced some outstanding opponents, closing the tournament with a 2-0 win over So Cal Blues for their third straight Cal South State Cup. Then it was on to Boise, Idaho, for their second Far West Regionals.
The team opened Regionals against their championship opponents from the previous year, playing a determined Real Colorado to a draw. The girls went on to put together a streak of wins that culminated in an overtime victory over Arizona State Champion Sereno Soccer Club. For the second time the team returned to Southern California with the Far West Regional trophy. But Kooiman’s team was not finished.
As U14s the team joined the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) and the newly-formed Southern California Developmental Soccer League (SCDSL). The girls took tournament championships in Legends Classic, West Coast Futbol Classic and Surf Cup, but as ECNL members they were unable to participate in State Cup and so could not defend their titles there or in Far West Regionals. Instead the girls worked their way up the ladder to compete for the ECNL National Championships in Waukegan, Ill. With multiple state and regional titles to their credit, these battle-tested girls took on and defeated such nationally-recognized powerhouses as Dallas FC, Eclipse Select and PDA. However, the championship match was against a familiar rival – Surf White – whom they defeated 2-0 for another title.
Their U15 year saw a return to CSL and the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, this time playing up at the U16 Premier level. By now they had also made an even bigger move – from Arsenal to Albion, where Kooiman was now a coach. It was a challenging year for the team, with several starters falling to injuries during the season, but the girls forged ahead to the National Cup. It was in the title game that the team showed their real strength and determination.
“Coach Kooiman took a team cobbled together with bailing wire and duct tape and somehow managed to get them to the championship game against reigning regional champions, the formidable Beach FC,” recalled team manager Eric Carter, whose daughter Katelyn Carter is the team’s long-time goalkeeper. The challenge was even greater because the team now came from all across Southern California, practicing primarily in Ontario, Calif., and traveling seemingly non-stop.
In the tight match, the two sides battled late into the game with no score. Then an Albion defender was called for a penalty in the box and Beach FC sent one of their top players, a member of the Youth National Teams pool, in to take the kick. She fired a rocket toward the upper corner, but Katelyn Carter managed to get to it and knock it away for the save. That play seemed to turn the momentum, although the teams continued to battle on through two scoreless overtime periods.
It all came down to penalty kicks, and Carter’s earlier heroics had set the bar for both teams. Again and again she parried the Beach FC shots, while her teammates sank goal after goal. When it was over, the girls had claimed their fourth State Cup title in four attempts – an unbelievable accomplishment. Unfortunately a three-peat at Far West Regionals in Hawaii was not in the cards. An injury to their leading scorer slowed the team’s attack, and they fell in the semi-final match 1-0 to the eventual champions.
The U16 year will see Albion GU16 USA once again playing up a year in CSL’s Premier division. The girls will also take on the competition in the California Regional League and the US Youth Soccer National League. Already the team has garnered awards, with a mixed U16 and U17 squad earning a championship at the Disney PUMA Showcase in Orlando. That victory not only added to their collection of hardware, it earned the team the trip to Sweden to train.
How did these girls prepare for this victory? According to Kooiman, “We trained three days a week for the PUMA V elite tournament. It was also important to have my team arrive a few days early to Orlando so we could acclimate to the humidity!”
Dealing with environmental issues is one aspect of ensuring a team’s ability to succeed. “The heat was brutal so we got hotel towels and put them on ice so we could keep are girls hydrated,” says Kooiman.
Was this an easy to achieve experience? Kooiman says, “We had tons of adversity! Our players also sustained injuries throughout the tournament. I had to become very creative with my lineup and system of play so we could remain highly competitive on the field!”
“Overall, it was a great team effort to achieve the amazing trip to Sweden and train at the Umea Soccer Club,” says Kooiman. It will be one more in a lifetime of amazing memories for these talented and dedicated young women at Albion SC.
The highlights of the Albion SC trip to Sweden included the opportunity to train with the Umea IK A-team players and coaches, the opportunity to play a match against the Umea U-17 academy team (Umea won 1-0), and off field activities including white water rafting.
Albion SC participates in the exclusive Total Club Concept (TCC) program, a special PUMA football program that gives football clubs unprecedented access to elite-level football across the globe. They gain exposure and access to scouts and behind the scenes access to professional Euro clubs. PUMA picked up the costs of this all-expense paid trip to Sweden as a benefit of the TCC program.
Is this unique for Albion SC? Gins says, “Over the last three years, PUMA has sent our youth soccer teams to England (Tottenham) and Portugal(Sporting) to compete and train against and with their professional clubs. The fact that these trips were free, with all the expenses paid for by PUMA, really made these special and unique opportunities for our elite players — who might not have otherwise been able to go.”