The XL National Teams will look to bring home some hardware as they take on teams from around the world at the 2018 San Marino Cup in Italy.
In the belly of the XL Soccer World facility on the outskirts of Winter Park, the XL National Teams take in one last practice.
The boy’s and girl’s squads pace back-and-forth inside a rink designed for indoor soccer where they enjoy a quick scrimmage to hone their skills for the tournament of the year.
Unlike the U.S. Men’s National Team — who failed to make this year’s World Cup in Russia — these two local teams will be playing on the international stage at this year’s San Marino Cup in Italy.
“This is our third tour in a row, and each year we have gone to a different location and this year we chose Italy,” said Grace Bowman, the girl’s head coach. “We’ll do a bit of sightseeing before we get to San Marino, but ultimately it is a vacation trip for everybody, plus we get the added benefit of getting to compete abroad.”
The organization has taken two trips before this year’s tournament — which takes place July 8-14 — with the national team competing in Spain last year and England the year before.
For this year’s competition, which is noted as being the biggest Italian youth soccer tournament, the XL squads will be tasked with taking on teams from all corners of the globe. On the Cup’s website it states that there will be 100 teams competing from 18 countries that represent four continents.
The field alone is an obstacle upon itself, and it can be much more difficult when you’re working with a team that has only truly been together since January, Bowman said.
Kids for both the boy’s and girl’s squads come from a background of different club teams, so getting them all on the same page is both challenging and rewarding.
“It’s a unique situation really — usually if you go on tour with a team you’ve been training together for years or at least a few seasons, and have that under your belt,” Bowman said. “All these kids play at clubs elsewhere, so it’s been a bit of a challenge for me and Nick to get that team chemistry that would naturally come, but we don’t have time to wait for it to come naturally.
“A lot of the practices that we have been doing have been kind of focused on that and breaking the ice and getting them to get to know each other,” she said. “For me it’s quite good to see if you were to compare the first practice — when they were being a bit reserved — and now characters are coming through and we have a lot of team chemistry going on.”
Along with the team chemistry has come an overall excitement from players, Bowman said, as the tournament inches closer and closer.
On the girl’s team, players such as forward Camila Dishinger, 13, are hoping to help lead the group to a possible trophy.
Dishinger was a part of last year’s girl’s team that made it to the final against Spain — though they unfortunately fell in a tough matchup. Despite that difficult end, she said there was a lot that she learned from the trip.
“The way they play over there is completely different — in America they play soccer different than they do in Europe, but it was a really fun experience,” said Dishinger, who has been playing the sport since she was 3. “(I) got to play soccer and go see the country — it was really fun.”