Volume 76, Number 25 | November 8 - 14, 2006


Mina Kobayashi of DUSC

Girls’ soccer has come a long way in a short time

By Judith Stiles

When petite Mina Kobayashi takes on her opponents in a soccer match, her feisty footwork and dogged determination help her win the ball, which inspires her teammates at the Downtown United Soccer Club to play hard alongside her. She is a young girl without fear, and while other girls are ducking the airborne balls, Kobayashi jumps up high for a hard header, gaining possession of the ball for her team. Even when confronted with a rough-and-tumble striker barreling toward her — an opponent 8 inches taller with a 20-pound advantage — Kobayashi plays low to the ground and outsmarts the striker with her clever ball maneuvers.

Now at 13 years old, Kobayashi has already had four years of soccer coaching and three out of her four coaches were women. Times have changed. Less than six years ago there were no women coaches in the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League until Downtown United became the first club to hire a woman coach.

Mom, Kimi Kobayashi, a soccer goalie herself, noted, “I believe women coaches are more tuned into girls’ physical development at this age and they also know more about what works in the mental game for girls.”

On Sunday, Coach Carly Burton of DUSC guided the girls, a.k.a. the DUSC Warriors, through a difficult game against the New York Soccer Club, without yelling and screaming instruction from the bench.

“With Carly as a coach, the girls seem to feel freer to experiment and are less afraid of making mistakes on the field,” observed Mom Kobayashi minutes before the match began at Pier 40 at W. Houston St.

In the first half of the game it was clear that Coach Mike Pfeffer of the N.Y. Soccer Club has been doing a great job with his players, because they passed the ball well, switched the field often and had more shots on goal. Midfielder Emma Pichl of NYSC took more than six shots but could not find the back of the net. Each time a DUSC forward took possession and tried to score, defender Megan Pfeffer of NYSC skillfully intercepted the ball, gathered it up and made a smart pass to a teammate, instead of panicking and kicking the ball out of bounds willy-nilly, as other youngsters often do.

In the 23rd minute, NYSC’s Tamara Vuckovich brought the ball up the left side of the field and then crossed it in front of the net, as NYSC’s star forward Jessica Pfeffer made a valiant effort as she slid into the ball, tapping it just wide of the goalpost. Also in the first half, DUSC’s goalkeeper, Simone Leitner, made several excellent saves followed by targeted punts to the midfield.

The first half ended with no score. But 12 minutes into the second half, NYSC’s Pichl shot from the middle of the field 20 yards out and scored the first goal. This was quickly followed by another goal by NYSC four minutes later, when Gaby Davis kicked the ball into the net off of a cross from Pichl at the 10-yard line. Five minutes before the game ended, the NYSC midfielders and forwards kept possession of the ball, and after eight consecutive quick passes in front of the net, Isabella Bertagana found an opening and slotted a shot into the corner for the third goal, making the final score 3-0 in favor of NYSC.

When the match was over, several of the DUSC players looked longingly at the pickup game in the adjacent field, admitting that lately they prefer casual scrimmages to the rigors of travel-team soccer. These sentiments mirror a bigger debate in the New York City youth soccer community. Some coaches feel that the players are overscheduled and overcoached. But other coaches feel that girls begin their formal skill-building and training too late, meaning the ripe old age of 10, and cannot catch up with the more advanced players in the rest of the state.

These coaches may disagree on many points. However, they would all say to a young girls playing soccer like Mina Kobayashi, “You’ve come a long way baby — and there is still a long way to go, and have a blast with the ball in the meantime.”

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