Minnesota girls’ soccer team goes to Norway
Youth from all over the world compete at Norway Cup
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
On July 12 at the Norway House in Minneapolis, there was a meaningful reception held in the afternoon to celebrate the Richfield Soccer Association U18 Girls Soccer team as they travel to Scandinavia to compete in Norway Cup, the largest youth soccer tournament in the world. Representing the Norwegian Honorary Consulate, Britt Ardakani gave a special toast to the girls, with key Norway House donors and members of the press in attendance.
For the team based in Richfield, Minn., about 10 miles south of Minneapolis, the accomplishment feels like nothing less than a miracle—or at least a dream come true. But it hasn’t always been international recognition for these young athletes, as they almost didn’t get to play together at all. They first started playing together in kindergarten, coached by two mothers, Ellen Ruiters and Betsy Lindow.
Once in elementary school, the girls wanted to continue playing, but the rec league gave them no more opportunity. As a result, Ellen and Betsy stepped up so the kids could continue. The team was able to carry on their streak of staying together since kindergarten and have now moved up all the way to the U18 level. Speaking to their effort toward making soccer at this level available to all, Ellen says “We made every effort to keep competitive soccer affordable and accessible to any girl who wanted to play at a higher level.”
While Norwegian isn’t a language spoken on the team, that doesn’t mean only English is spoken on the field. Impressively, almost the entire roster has learned to speak Spanish. This has led to a bit of a bilingual experience while playing, with the players seamlessly switching between the two languages to communicate with each other.
On the Richfield team, there is a great esprit de corps, and, of course, the team has improved as a result of the continuity and dedication. The girls are no longer coached by two mothers and have a professional coach, Stanley [last name]. When asked why he coaches, he said, among other responses, that, ultimately, “I coach for the kids.”
Last year, under Stanley’s leadership the team participated in the championship game of the USA Cup, the local soccer tournament held at the National Sport Center in Blaine, Minn., where teams from across the continent compete, and their name was drawn to compete in Norway. Aside from the USA Cup, this would be their first experience playing teams outside of Minnesota.
It would be the first trip to Norway for all of the girls, full of excitement, not only to be part of an international cup but to see a foreign country on the other side of the Atlantic. But while their Norwegian hosts paid for all of their costs in Norway, including room and board, it was necessary for the girls to cover their airfare for a total of about $33,000.
To achieve this goal, the Richfield team set up an online GoFundMe page. In less than a month, donations had poured in enough to blow past the team’s initial $9,000 goal to offset travel costs. Inspired by the support, they updated their goal to reflect the total cost for the team’s travel: $32,400. To everyone’s amazement, on May 11, they purchased their tickets with the money raised. The girls were on their way.
In the Norway Cup, the girls competed against teams from Brazil, Nigeria, Zambia, and more. The matches took place in Oslo at the Ekeberg Complex on July 31, Aug. 1, and Aug. 2 for pool play. Elimination began after that.
The Richfield soccer team was knocked out of the competition, but they have no regrets about competing. And for the parents who went along on the trip to Norway, the experience was perhaps equally exciting. Everyone agrees that participation in this year’s Norway Cup was a life-changing experience.
Ruiters sums it all up:
“This has been the experience of a lifetime. We are grateful for all those who made it possible, [with] over 400 donors. The girls represented our community well. We played great soccer, scored goals, won a game, and enjoyed every minute of Norway. We swam in the fjord, ziplined in an Olympic stadium, took a boat cruise to a small fishing town, explored Oslo, and made new international friends. Although we were knocked out of the tournament, we were competitive in every game. Our heads are held high.
“This has always been about more than soccer. It’s about the power of community, resiliency, and making space for everyone. This is youth sports done right. Thank you for believing in our team. We will carry this experience with us for the rest of our lives. We all came away from this experience WINNERS!”
This article originally appeared in the September 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.