F.C. Portland Academy sends a group of youth players to train in Russia

Playing sports can take you places, some say, and that adage certainly proved true for a group of F.C. Portland Academy players recently.

Last month, 10 girls from the Hillsboro-based soccer club made the journey of their young lives, traveling a distance of more than 5,000 miles to participate in a tournament in Moscow, Russia.

Accompanied by F.C. Portland’s head of women’s training, Mike dePinna, and three other adult chaperones, the girls spent spring break at the Chertanovo Football Academy, practicing, playing games and experiencing Russian culture and food — and they won the Chertanovo Cup, too.

“It was my first ever big travel trip, and my parents didn’t even go,” said 12-year-old Riley Shaver, of Hillsboro. “It was cool. It was a really great experience.”

DePinna said that with F.C. Portland often focusing on sending its teams to college showcase tournaments, the club had not sent a team abroad in “years” prior to last month’s trip. But when the opportunity came up midwinter to take a group of 11- to 13-year old girls to Moscow, he jumped on it, as did an enthusiastic set of parents.

With Chertanovo being a football academy, players attend school at the academy and train with and play for the school’s teams. Players from within Moscow commute to the school, dePinna said, but those from outside of the city live in the school’s dorms and eat in its cafeteria.

That is what the F.C. Portland contingent did as well. With food and lodging available at no cost, the only major expenses for the team were plane tickets and visas, which some of the girls had to obtain quickly, even driving up to Seattle to expedite the process.

While those costs were not insignificant, the savings from staying at the dorms meant that the cost of the trip was comparable to other trips the club’s teams take in the states, dePinna said.

For five of the seven days the F.C. Portland group spent in Moscow, it trained in the morning and played games later the same day. Training was still staged on the other two days, but the team spent those afternoons going on excursions to places like Red Square, which is adjacent to the Kremlin, and the Russian Circus. They also went to a couple of malls, including one with a Nike store — a familiar place half a world away.

“That was like our home,” noted 12-year-old Ann Louise Naito, a Portland resident.

As for the actual soccer, the girls were a hit in the tournament, which used an 8-on-8 format and was staged indoors on turf. The team posted three wins and a tie in the run-up to the tournament final, where the girls knocked off their Chertanovo counterparts in front of a raucous, partisan crowd that chanted and waved flags.

“It was like a miniature Timbers Army, but for them,” Naito said, citing the enthusiastic support group for the Portland Timbers.

Playing soccer in a foreign country also gave the F.C. Portland girls a chance to experience a different style of soccer, as well as for the Russian girls. The support for women’s athletics is not as strong in Russia as it is in the United States, dePinna said, and the Russian players were very skilled technically, but they were a bit behind the F.C. Portland girls in terms of tactics, speed of play, and conceptual understanding.

“It was interesting because they played a different way than we play, so it was kind of weird, but it was also fun to see how we could improve our skills and what we could do better,” said Rachel Day, 11, of Beaverton. “It was kind of a good experience for them too, so they can get better.”

Of course, the trip was not all business. In addition to the sightseeing ventures, the F.C. Portland girls also spent quite a bit of time with their Russian counterparts, the girls recreating and getting to know each other despite the Americans knowing no Russian and most of the hosts speaking little English.

“I liked meeting all the Russian girls and then playing soccer with them,” Shaver said. “We actually became friends with them outside of soccer, so that was cool.”

Quite an experience among a trip full of them, one 10 young girls from the greater Portland area likely will not forget anytime soon.

Said Day: “I would say if anyone went, they would be amazed what they would see, because it’s pretty amazing there.”

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