Plum soccer duo takes on world during Europe trip
Soccer is a sport known for its world-wide popularity.
Two Plum girls recently had an opportunity to experience how the game is played outside the United States.
Ali Gipson and Addie Jacobs, who will be juniors at Plum High School, were selected to play for Stars ‘N Stripes, a 17-and-under team that played against international competition in tournaments in Sweden and Denmark in July.
The 15-member all-star team, which included players from all over the United States, reached the championship round in both the Gothia Cup (Sweden) and the Dana Cup (Denmark). Stars ‘N Stripes compiled an overall record of 6-2-3 against some of the top clubs in Europe.
“It was a great opportunity to go to another continent and play against international competition,” Jacobs said.
“You're forced to play at their level, and it makes you a better player. You're learning from your mistakes and growing from the experience.”
Jacobs, a right defensive back, and Gipson, who plays the left side on defense, anchored a unit that allowed only 13 goals in 11 games in the two tournaments. Both Plum players earned Player of the Day honors during the trip while helping Stars ‘N Stripes post four shutouts.
“We came from different places, but we all seemed to click when we stepped out on the field,” Gipson said. “And Addie and I have played together for years, so we have some good ideas of what to do out there.”
Gipson and Jacobs have been defensive starters for the Lady Mustangs since they were freshmen, and they also play together on a club team, Century United. Two of their Plum teammates — junior midfielder Christine Tamburri and sophomore midfielder Nicolette Casarcia — also were invited to join the Stars 'N Stripes team, but both are recovering from knee injuries.
Stars 'N Stripes International Soccer Tours was founded in 1987. The organization's philosophy, as listed on its web site, is to give young soccer players “a chance to become better soccer players and better people by exposing them to different players, styles and cultures from around the world.”
Ed Puskarich, the Stars 'N Stripes head coach, founder and executive director, is a former professional player with extensive college and pro coaching experience. He's in the area this week to conduct a clinic for Plum's high school team.
Puskarich took the girls' team and two boys' teams to Europe.
Players and coaches met in Dallas on July 8 and flew to Germany for a five-day training camp before moving on to Gothenburg, Sweden, site of the Gothia Cup.
The Gothia Cup is billed as the world's largest youth soccer tournament. This year's event included more than 37,000 players on 1,545 teams from 75 nations.
“The style of play was a lot more physical over there. They push you a lot more,” Gipson said. “And they like to keep the ball up in the air. Our players keep the ball more on the ground.”
It was more of that same style of play on the next stop for Stars 'N Stripes, the Dana Cup in Hjorring, Denmark. Jacobs was impressed by the team's chemistry during the two tournaments.
“We all came from different parts of the United States,” she said. “I was surprised at how well we played together after just a few weeks.”
It wasn't all soccer for the Stars 'N Stripes players and coaches on the trip, which concluded when they returned to the United States on July 28. There was time for sightseeing and socializing with players from other countries.
“It gave us a break and a chance to have some fun outside of soccer,” Jacobs said. “It was a great team- bonding experience.”
Added Gipson,” We would wear our red, white and blue, and people would come up to us on the streets and say, ‘Go USA!'”
Both Gipson and Jacobs believe they are better players because of their European experience and hope to use what they learned during the upcoming high school season.
Plum's girls went 9-7-2 in 2012 and qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2002. It was the Lady Mustangs' first winning season since 2007.
Plum coach Mike Proviano wants to build off that success, and Jacobs and Gipson are expected to play key roles in 2013.
“They've been a great part of our core the last two years and will continue to be,” Proviano said.
“They're hard workers, and they respond well to whatever you ask them to do. They're good kids on and off the field.”
Dave Schrecengost is a freelance writer.