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Locals experience France

Blair County soccer team goes 3-0, watches World Cup

The United States women’s national soccer team captured the FIFA World Cup July 7 with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in Lyons, France.

In June, a girls soccer club comprised of players ages 14-16 from Blair County and surrounding areas won all three games that it played in France in an event called the Friendly World Cup Soccer Games, and players and coaches from the club were also on hand to see the United States women play three World Cup games.

The local girls soccer club, known as the Mountain District Union, included Blair County players Paige Miller, Ava Miller and Lizze Johnson from Hollidaysburg, Chloe LaRosa from Tyrone, and Ella Gardner from Central, as well as four players from State College, one each from Bald Eagle Area, Westmont Hilltop, and DuBois, and a guest player from the state of Texas.

The Mountain District Union squad, which stayed in France from June 19-30, was coached by Altoona Area High School girls soccer coach Derek Winterburn. The Mountain District Union squad defeated Bayeux France, 10-0 on June 22, EFSC Reims by a 5-0 score on June 26, and the ERVY Football Club, 7-2 on June 29.

“We had a talented team,” Winterburn said. “I don’t think we knew what to expect going into (the event). I wouldn’t say (the success) is surprising, but we didn’t know what the competition would be like. There were good clubs and good competition there, but the girls played really well over there.”

The local squad played stout defense, allowing only two goals in the three games.

“It was a team effort,” Winterburn said. “The team played really well. Our goalkeepers and our back line played really well, and so did our targets (forwards) and midfield. We had a game plan going into each game, and we executed the game plan well.”

The team got the opportunity to make the trip through the efforts of State College’s Lisa Cole, who serves as the squad’s technical director. Cole coached soccer at the collegiate, professional, and international levels, and she met with a travel coordinator to set up the trip.

The original plan was to offer the trip only to players with a birth year of 2003, but when not enough team positions were filled, younger players were offered the opportunity to participate in the event.

One of those players was LaRosa, a 14-year-old rising freshman at Tyrone Area High School. An outstanding midfielder, LaRosa scored eight goals in the three games, including four in the first game and three in the third game.

“I’m really grateful, because I think that it’s a great opportunity for somebody my age to have the experience of going over there,” LaRosa said. “It was really nice to be able to play internationally with the older girls that I didn’t know, and it was nice to be able to get to know them.”

The French culture was also interesting, according to both LaRosa and Winterburn.

“It’s very different,” LaRosa said. “The streets are much more narrow than they are here, all the cars are really small, and most people even ride small scooters over there. Most of the people over there are really laid-back, and everybody over there walks everywhere.”

Winterburn said that coaching on the field in France was different as well.

“It was definitely interesting,” Winterburn said. “Here, you can hear the messages that (opposing) coaches are delivering to their team. Over there, I couldn’t hear what the other coaches were saying, since they were speaking French.

“But (the opposing coaches and opposing teams) were really friendly,” Winterburn said. “They gave us a locker room, every club gave the (opposing) club a gift, and we went to their clubhouse after each game, where they had always prepared a meal for us.”

Adding to the fun was the Mountain District Union team’s opportunity to take in three World Cup games involving the United States women’s team, including the U.S. squad’s 2-1 quarterfinal victory over host France on June 28 in Paris.

“It was pretty cool being in that kind of environment,” Winterburn said. “It never really got ugly. The U.S. (people were) rooting for their team, and (the French people) were rooting for their team. Everybody was really into the game, and there was never any bickering.”

The Mountain District Union players and coaches also did a lot of interesting touring, and met Brandi Chastain, who helped the U.S. women’s soccer team win an Olympic gold medal back in 1999.

“We did all the touristy stuff,” Winterburn said. “We went to the Eiffel Tower, Normandy and the World War II museum. It was definitely like a once-in-a-lifetime trip.”

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