Aria Club 2016 Tournament (28-30 May)
This past weekend I attended the H&S Nuri 5th Annual Memorial Soccer Tournament hosted by Aria Sport Club in Dublin, California. The tournament, held at Fallon Sports Complex, provided an opportunity to see some of our American, Canadian, and European-based players get time on the pitch and it offered opportunities to get to know the Afghan community in the Bay Area and meet members of the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF). Lasting a total of three days, the tournament included youth age groups, a men's open division, a men's over-35 division, and a women's open division (in which our players participated). The women's open division consisted of three teams (ITIFAQ, Noor FC, and Aria Club) with a total of over 40 girls and women participating. It was a fast-paced weekend full of one event after another and observing our players in action was a great first step for our team and staff.
I arrived in Oakland on Friday evening after some delays at the airport in Dallas. Upon my arrival, Kamran Faizi of the Afghanistan Football Support Organization (AFSO), picked me up from the airport and we headed to the house of Amin Zafari of Aria Sports Club. Immediately upon arrival I was welcomed with open arms, pleasant greetings, and traditional kisses on the cheek. I met some of our European-based players for the first time, including Wida Zemarai and Nilofar Yaqoubi, and a few of the younger American players, such as Marjan Haydaree (historic leading scorer for Afghanistan WNT). I also met the AFF Vice President and former Men's National Team Coach, Yosef Kargar. The evening was full of delicious Afghan food, music, and dancing and a little bit of business with Kargar and I catching up on the South Asia Football Federation Championships and planning for the year.
Saturday morning, despite the traditional Afghan party running late into the night, the tournament started off bright and early--the first game at 8:00 am. The initial women's match consisted of the ITIFAQ team versus Noor FC (of AFSO). ITIFAQ got on the board early with goals by Afghan phenom and current Santa Clara Women's Soccer player, Hailai Arghandiwal. Noor FC fought back with a goal by local high school player, Sadaf Noori, but it wasn't enough to overcome ITIFAQ's offensive attack. Observing the game from the sideline offered an opportunity to identify players with potential to join the National Team and insight into how they're currently coached.
Immediately following the first match, Kargar presented me with an Afghanistan Football Federation scarf and formally welcomed me to the staff of AFF. It's a humbling experience to be so quickly accepted and supported by the Federation. Kargar and other members of AFF have gone out of their way to champion our staff and team, and their efforts and dedication toward the women's game are significant.
The second match of the women's tournament was between ITIFAQ and Aria Club and was a hard fought battle. Again, Hailai Arghandiwal was a dominating force with assists from one of the younger players in the tournament, Mika Sayfurahman. Aria Club featured our European-based players, one Canadian, and Hajar Abulfazil (traveling from Kabul). It also included several other American-based players interested in being evaluated for the National Team. Goalkeeper, Wida Zemarai played a solid game between the pipes for Aria Club and was impressive across the board despite the score line.
Upon the final whistle of the second match, the European players, Hajar, and I traveled to Iman TV Station to do a live sports show with Dr. Subhan Hatifie. The show, broadcast globally, was even watched by Nilofar's parents who stayed up until 2:00 am local time in Holland to catch it. During the show, we discussed the 2016 efforts, the historical development of the team, gave background information on some of the players, and the obstacles we have yet to overcome. You can watch the show (it's mostly in Dari) here: https://youtu.be/YNGc9ARD2xE
Day Two of the tournament saw only one women's fixture with Aria Club taking on Noor FC. Both teams fought it out but Aria Club won, advancing to the Monday finals against ITIFAQ. Following the match, Kargar and I took an opportunity to compare names and numbers of players who may have what it takes to play at the international level. We were both pleasantly surprised that out of the 40+ women and girls, we'd both identified the same players for involvement in the National Team program. We agreed that after our upcoming trip in Amsterdam, Kelly, Khalida, and I would finalize our roster and get it to him by the end of June. Later that evening, I spoke for about an hour on the phone with Kelly after she returned to Hong Kong from China for the weekend. We agreed on the timeline and branched off on all sorts of tangents like FIFA Rankings, our 3-Year Plan, and how to properly pronounce player names. The pressure is on!! :-)
Finally, Monday arrived and I had to prepare for my flight back to Houston. In the morning, Kamran and Hashmat Haidari from AFSO came and picked me up from my hotel and took me to Starbucks for a little bit of shop talk about our upcoming event in September. We discussed fundraising efforts and how the community in the Bay Area can contribute, how we'd like the AFSO tournament to tentatively be arranged to give the Afghanistan WNT the best competition possible in preparation for SAFF, and some of the logistical considerations for the arrival and accommodation of the team. Both Aria Sports Club and AFSO have been incredibly helpful and support of our efforts and they should both be commended for their commitment to growing the women's side.
After our business meeting, we headed down to the fields for one last time. I was able to say goodbye to Kargar and Hajar and wish her luck ahead of their final that day. ITIFAQ wound up winning the tournament with Aria Club coming in second. Prior to my departure the women of Aria Club and their Board of Directors presented me with an Outstanding Achievement Award thanking me for my acceptance of the Assistant Coaching position. It was such a warm gesture and totally unexpected. I'll cherish that award for a very long time.
I made it home last night around midnight and dove into bed. I was back up and at the grind of building the team with texts from Khalida around 6 am. She's such a good friend! We look forward to providing you with more updates as we get ready to travel to Amsterdam in two weeks. Make sure to keep your eyes on Twitter, Instagram, and our Facebook page for the daily updates!
SAFF Championship Update
The South Asia Football Federation has announced that the SAFF Women's Championship will now be played in November 2016 instead of September. Tentatively, the Afghanistan WNT will attend the AFSO event from 1-8 September in Dublin, CA before returning home. We will then gather in Hong Kong in the days/weeks immediately preceding SAFF for our final training camp before departing for India. This will change our budget and travel arrangements slightly but thanks to the Houston Dash hooking us up with an amazing travel agent, we aren't too worried about it! We're learning more and more as a staff to stay flexible!
UN Global Goals 2016 World Cup
Many of our players in Europe recently took part in the UN Global Goals World Cup as part of the Girl Power Organization's Football Team. The Girl Power Team, as you may know from this site, is a group of refugee and immigrant women who live in different European countries and come as together to play and use football as a tool to encourage other women around the world to stand for their rights.
The UN Global Goals World Cup is in its first year and was comprised of 24 teams. Each team was playing for one of the 17 global goals. The UN's Global Goal initiative and descriptions of each goal can be found here: http://www.globalgoals.org/#the-goals. Our team pledged that they were playing for Goal #10: Reduced Inequalities.
On May 15th, the Afghanistan WNT players traveled from Holland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, to Copenhagen and enjoyed their first training together as a group in quite some time. It was good to get everyone together to bond and to shake off any jetlag and pre-tournament jitters. The training session made for some good laughs and great memories!
The tournament kicked off on May 17th and the team won all games in the first round, emerging as the group winner. They then advanced to the semifinals beating Danish team Metro Express with a score of 3-1. Unfortunately, the team lost in the final to Youth Fighters, also from Denmark, with a score of 1-3. It was an amazing experience and the team got to meet many people including Monica Gonzalez, former Team Captain of the Mexican Women's National Team, FIFA Executive Moya Dodd, and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thoring-Schmidt.
Congrats to our players for participating in such a worthy event and for reaching as far as they did. They are role models who can influence other women that come from different cultures and backgrounds to integrate in their societies and to not be afraid to participate in sports and lead healthy lifestyles. Their teammates around the world and the staff are very proud of them and their efforts!!
A video of highlights from the trip and tournament can be viewed on the Afghanistan WNT YouTube Channel at: https://youtu.be/9G0AyhQY9l8
Hello to all of our supporters and fans out there! We appreciate you stopping by to keep up with our journey as we move forward with our plans for 2016. Our intent in creating this blog is to provide everyone out there with a glimpse of what we are working on behind the scenes, our tentative schedule for the year, the various partnerships we are making and working on, and areas where we may still need support.
From here on out, when one of our staff members provides an update on what they're working on and general thoughts on the team, we will end our blog posts with our respective initials. For instance, this is Haley drafting now and I'll end each of my posts with "HC." We will also invite players to post on recent events, happenings in their regions, and how they feel things are progressing over the year. We will end their posts with their name and number!
In discussing the need for this blog, Khalida, Kelly and I felt it important that we start from the beginning and provide as much of a comprehensive overview of this effort as possible. The key to a successful year for us is to grow and generate as much awareness both around the team and the efforts of the Afghanistan Football Federation, hummel International, and the various entities that are working tirelessly to make this year a success. That said, this first post is all about introducing our mission and vision for the year and to provide an overview of happenings thus far! So, without further ado, here we go...
Mission of Afghanistan WNT
To use football as our vehicle to inspire hope, encourage peace, and elevate lives!
Goals for 2016
UNITE: Unite talented, passionate Afghanistan women's football players from around the globe, with the talented players within the Afghanistan Women's League, who all believe in the mission of this great team and the future of this great program!
TRAIN: Host our first official Team Training Camp. This has never before been done in the history of the program. We will come together with proper facilities and expert coaches to conduct team building exercises and improve our technique and fitness. We will create our first professional, performance enhancement-focused training environment.
ELEVATE: Compete in the South Asia Football Federation Games, with the goal to elevate our competitive abilities to achieve a Top 3 finish and show our fellow countrymen that the women of Afghanistan can bring great PRIDE to our nation.
Click here to watch our 2016 journey........vimeo.com/204861869
Head Coach: Kelly Lindsey
Kelly was a former WUSA #1 Draft Pick professional player for the San Jose CyberRays. She came up through the ranks of the U.S. Women's National Team and has spent 13 years coaching women's football around the world at the professional, collegiate, and youth national team levels. Her true passion lies in "elevating lives through sport!" Kelly's deep belief in this group of women to transform their nation and inspire young girls from around the globe to live their dreams is why she joined the mission!
Assistant Coach: Haley Carter
Haley is currently a reserve goalkeeper for the NWSL's Houston Dash. A former NCAA Division I soccer player for the U.S. Naval Academy, she spent eight years in the Marine Corps and started for the U.S. All-Armed Forces Women's Soccer team, competing in two Military World Football Championships. While deployed to Iraq, she played with local military and police personnel and helped women to play when opportunities were unavailable. Empowering women in the Middle East and Central Asia through sport has been a passion of hers ever since.
Program Director: Khalida Popal
As former leader of Afghanistan Women's Football, Khalida is still "Captaining" the team, just from the Director role these days. Khalida is our inspiration as she provides the perspiration and a never-ending drive and passion to build a better future for the women of Afghanistan. She serves on the Afghanistan Projekt with hummel International and works with many non-profit organizations to support women's empowerment and refugee causes (and founded Girl Power Organization). She is truly amazing!
Fitness Coach: John De Witt, PhD
John is currently the Head Performance Coach for the Houston Dynamo Academy and Assistant Coach with the Houston Dash with a focus on physical performance and fitness. He earned his Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Science from the University of Texas Medical Branch and is a National Strength and Conditioning Association's Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. John additionally holds a position as Senior Biomechanist at NASA Johnson Space Center in the Exercise Physiology and Countermeasures Laboratory and is a frequent presenter at the National Soccer Coaches Association of American national conventions. His inspiration to assist the Afghanistan WNT began when he started coaching in 1989. His passion is and always has been wanting to help people attain their full potential.
Team Physio: Joelle Muro, DPT
Joelle Muro attended Saint Louis University where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Exercise Science and her Doctorate in Physical Therapy. She is currently a Sports Certified Specialist for Ben Hogan Sports Medicine in Frisco, Texas located at the FC Dallas stadium. Joelle has worked with athletes in all levels and sports but has always enjoyed working with female soccer players, as she herself is an avid soccer player and fan. Helping women pursue their dreams is one of Joelle’s passions. She is a firm believer that opportunity through sport has the power to influence and improve the female athlete in many facets and is extremely honored for the opportunity to help the women of the Afghanistan WNT pursue their endeavors.
The next month will be dedicated to staff travel for player evaluation and selection to the Afghanistan WNT. Some of the events in which our players are taking part include:
UN Global Goals World Cup: This event is taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark this week where Eir soccer has partnered with UNDP, creating a play-for-change soccer tournament that promotes the UN 17 Global Goals. Eir and UNDP share a common cause: Everyone has the right to play and to fight for freedom. Together, Eir and UNDP are connecting women around the world through soccer, play and fun. Details can be found here: http://www.sportanddev.org/en/?13936/1/Global-goals-world-cup
Aria Club Tournament: The Aria Club's mission is to bring together the Afghan-American community through sports, friendship, and competition. They are hosting a football tournament that will be attended by multiple members of the Afghanistan Football Federation and will host players from both the U.S. and Afghanistan. The tournament will be played in the Bay Area of California from 28-30 May. Information about the Aria Club is located here: http://ariaclub.org/
WK Nederland: This is the largest multicultural football festival in the Netherlands and is taking place in Amsterdam on 11 and 12 June. It offers an opportunities from players of all nations to create teams and play against one another. This year's participating Women's Football teams are from Suriname, Colombia, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Afghanistan, and the Republic of Cape Verde. Information on the tournament can be found on their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/WKNLD/
Once players are selected for inclusion on the roster, we will be turning our focus to the following events:
AFSO Cup: The Afghanistan Football Support Organization (AFSO) is supporting a tournament for the Afghanistan WNT from 1-4 September in the Bay Area of California. This tournament will provide the first opportunity of the year to unite all members of the Afghanistan WNT in one place to play together. Information on AFSO is located here: http://www.afso.org/web/
U.S. Friendlies: Immediately following the conclusion of the AFSO Cup, the Afghanistan WNT will stick around the Bay Area in order to get friendly games against local WPSL, NPL, and ECNL teams. The final details of those games are still being worked out but they will be played over the span of 5-8 September. We will update as we finalize the schedule.
Hong Kong Training Camp: Immediately following the U.S. friendlies, the team will travel to Hong Kong where we will be hosted by the Hong Kong Major League Football Academy. We will continue our training in Hong Kong in preparation for the SAFF tournament and are looking to schedule International Matches against teams while there. Final details of this trip are also still in the works. However, you can check out the Major League Football Academy (and their amazing staff) here: http://www.majorleaguefa.com/
South Asia Football Federation (SAFF) Games: This will be the culminating event of our year and is currently scheduled to take place in Sept/October in India. Final details are still being determined and an update will be provided in a later post!
Interested in Playing for the Afghanistan WNT?
Players that qualify under FIFA rules to play for the Afghanistan WNT may submit their athletic CV and a highlight video to AfghanWomen.Football@gmail.com. Please include your full name and "Player Evaluation" in the subject line. In the body of the email, please provide your full name, age, contact information, position, and highest playing level.
The Afghanistan Football Federation is leaning in to support our team but they are limited in all areas. That said, we are using our personal networks with FIFA, hummel International, and various non-profits to help increase awareness for individuals who may seek to help support our team. Using our social media platforms and GoFundMe, we have managed to gain the support of Kobe Bryant, Julie Foudy (Former US Women's National Team Captain), and Brian Cushing (Houston Texans Football Player). These funds are being managed directly by Haley Carter and have thus far paid for staff travel to events. We are now using those funds to start coverage of the lodging, transportation, and meal expenses our team will face during our various tournaments and training camps. Should you desire to donate, please do so at:
Several of our players got together to create a quick thank you video for the support we've been shown thus far. You can find it on our YouTube channel at:
Corporate Sponsorship Campaign
We are currently finalizing our corporate sponsorship package. Opportunities will be available for training kit and equipment/gear logo printing as well as endorsement opportunities in the realm of sports performance drinks/meals. It is our objective to cover the budget for all training camps and tournaments via individual fundraising and the corporate sponsorships. A detailed budget will be included in the package. Corporate sponsorship packages may be requested via email at AfghanWomen.Football@gmail.com. Please include the name of your company and "Corporate Sponsorship" in the subject line.
Media Outreach and Requests
If you are interested in arranging an interview with any member of the staff or the players, please reach out to us at AfghanWomen.Football@gmail.com. Please include the name of your media outlet and "Media Request" in the subject line. In the text of the email, please be sure to include your full name, contact information, who you would like to interview and any questions you should have in advance. We ask that all media outlets please review this blog in depth prior to sending your request as many initial questions may be answered here.