On July 20, a team of 14 girls from the Santa Barbara area is traveling to Scandinavia to compete in the Norway Cup, the world’s largest youth soccer tournament. These 12- to 14-year-old players were scouted and assembled from various South Coast teams to create Santa Barbara United. Coaches Edward Bonn and Eric Graf look for girls who are not only excellent soccer players, but also have an interest in traveling and participating in cultural exchange. “If we’re taking that big trip,” explained Coach Bonn, “we want them to experience a part of Norway’s culture, not just compete in an athletic competition.”
Coaches Bonn and Graf first took Santa Barbara United to the Norway Cup last summer, having been inspired by Une Solheim, a player on their AYSO team. Last year, Une came with her family from Norway so her mother could do post-doctoral work at UCSB. With the help of Une’s parents, Brit Svoen and ge Solheim, Santa Barbara United cooked up a plan to participate in the Norway Cup in Oslo as well as spend a week in Une’s hometown of Lillehammer to get a taste of the culture. The team made it to the quarterfinals and was one of only two American teams out of a total of 1,500.
“This year we expect to make it to the finals,” pledged Coach Bonn. “It is a really talented bunch of young ladies:They could be unstoppable.” With four returning players and last year’s experience in the Cup, the team is confident. “We have an advantage,” says returning player Tiana Bonn. “We know how [the international players] play, and what we’re going to go through before the tournament. We’re not going to be over- or under-excited.” This year, the girls of Santa Barbara United are proud to be the only American team in the Norway Cup.
Last year, outside of the tournament, Santa Barbara United organized games with teams from China, Kenya, and Vietnam, after which the players shared dinner and learned a little about each other’s countries, languages, and customs. The team’s final game of the 2007 trip was the scrimmage against Vietnam, which the coaches had planned without realizing that it would be the first official game between an American and Vietnamese team since the Vietnam War. Out of the 1,500 teams in last year’s Cup, Coach Bonn wasn’t aware of any other teams who had organized such scrimmages and cultural exchanges. This summer, Santa Barbara United has games in store with teams from Palestine, Kenya, and Uganda.
In addition to the hours of practice and conditioning that the players complete to prepare for the competition, and the coordinating and planning on the part of the parents and coaches, Santa Barbara United has been fundraising to pay for the trip. The cost of each player’s airfare, room and board, tournament fees, and uniform is $3,500, totaling some $50,000 in expenses for the entire team of 14 to participate in this incredible experience. The team has held a garage sale, been selling carwash tickets, approached corporations for donations, and is planning a car wash fundraiser this Sunday, July 13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Goleta’s Mobil Gas Station, 4750 Hollister Avenue, across from San Marcos High. For several girls on the team, the trip would not be possible without the financial assistance provided by this fundraising. The team is also accepting donations.