By Ollie Schiff Stein
I’m 13 years old and live in Brooklyn. This past summer, four teams from my travel soccer club were invited to Norway to play in the largest youth soccer tournament in the world. This is how I got there.
I started playing soccer when I was four. I tried other sports (baseball and basketball), but I always came back to soccer because I was good at it and loved everything about the game: I went to professional matches with my family, talked about soccer with friends and teammates, played at recess, and loved to watch it on TV.
My first experience playing soccer was when I was five with Brooklyn AYSO. After two years with AYSO, I joined SC Gjoa Youth Soccer, a travel club based in Brooklyn. I have been playing for them for almost seven years, and have been invited to play in tournaments with them as well as with teams from the Elite Player Development Program and the Red Bulls player development academy. I also have participated in several professional training programs and residential camps. Also, this past year, I had a special opportunity to train one-on-one with a professional footballer, Kobi Moyal, who was the former Israeli national team captain and had come to Brooklyn when he signed with the NY Cosmos.
SC Gjoa, which has Norwegian roots, is the oldest soccer club in NYC – 2018 marks the club’s 100thyear. The Norway Cup is based right outside of Oslo. Teams from all over the globe come to compete for one week each summer hoping to lift the trophy as winner of their age group.
This was the first time I traveled to Europe. Growing up, I had only played against other American teams. I was very excited to go to Norway to play in a tournament. I have been to sleep away camp for many summers, but I had never traveled so far to play soccer in a tournament, let alone without my parents. In addition to the 15 kids on my U13 team, Gjoa sent three other teams to the tournament. We all stayed in a school in Ekeburg, where the tournament was held. In the school, we stayed with Norwegians and Koreans. We didn’t get to interact a lot with the other kids although sometimes we’d pass each other on the way to the showers at night. Everyone was nice and respectful, and it seemed like almost all the European kids spoke some English, but the Korean boys couldn’t communicate with us at all.
In our age group, there were about 2,000 kids on 128 teams. My team played all of our three group stage games against local teams from Norway. In the round of 32, we were up against a Lebanese team, then the Norwegians in the round of 16, and finally we played a friendly match against a team from Tanzania. Despite the fact that my team had won our league championship almost every year, and won the New York City Cup twice, we knew the competition was going to be very tough, and we couldn’t be sure how far we’d get in the tournament. Even our coaches didn’t think we’d do well. But we surprised everyone.
Playing the three group stage matches against local teams helped us figure out how Norwegians play. We won all three games and I contributed 3 goals and 2 assists. I couldn’t believe we made it through to the knockouts. Our whole team had butterflies in our stomachs. It wasn’t long before our coach, James Francis, was also nervous. The round of 32 came fast. It was against a Lebanese side that we heard was amazing. We won that game in a close 2-1 victory and I had one assist. Then the round of 16 came, and we fought hard to win that match. I remember feeling relieved when the final whistle blew because they were a really good team and I was exhausted. It was tied 1-1 so we had to go to the golden goal. In golden goal, there are two five-minute halves, and the first team to score automatically wins. In the end, they ended up scoring the crucial goal on a mistake in the midfield. I learned a valuable lesson after that game – just completely move on from what happens on the field and keep your head held up high. Even after the loss against a very good Norwegian team, we made it further than expected The Norway Cup attracts the best youth players and teams from around the world. We knew that they’d be strong, fast, and incredibly well trained. My team and club didn’t have experience playing against such strong European opponents, but we tied for 8th out of 128 U13 teams. We were so happy and proud of ourselves.
Since the coaches didn’t expect us to get as far as we did, they thought we might have a few days to relax and explore Oslo. But by making it to the round of sixteen we had only two days to go into the city. We did have lots of fun while trying to recover from our team being knocked out of the tournament. One of the older Gjoa teams, the U15s, got even further than us. They got to the quarters but lost, and their round of 16 game was insane. They played right before we had our round of 16 match, and when the U15s won that match, literally everyone ran onto the pitch. They were all jumping and screaming their heads off like they had just won the World Cup. We surrounded our U15 team and went crazy. They were in the quarterfinals!
Besides the tournament, we did other activities such as mini golf near where we were staying. We also took Oslo’s bus and train system to the beach and jumped off a high deck into the ocean. There was a mini trampoline park in the area of the tournament and we used that, too. In our free time, when we didn’t have to play a game, train, eat, take a shower or do our regular team talks, we usually hung out together as a team in the courtyard of the school and played “soccer-pong.” That’s what we called it. There were ping pong tables and we brought balls and used our heads, feet and any other body parts except our hands to get the ball over the net.
Considering how well we did, how much we learned and developed as players and as a team, and how much fun we had, there is no doubt that we will return to Norway next year. Given the opportunity, I would definitely go again. It’s not like I’d miss out on trying to win the Norway Cup — the best youth tournament on Earth!
Ollie Schiff Stein is an 8th grader at MS 51 in Brooklyn.See more New York Sports Connection articles
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