Travel Soccer: Handshakes, Showcases, And A Deep Bond

By Kate Johnston

A typical fall weekend for my travel soccer team consists of traveling, one or two games, homework, and some catered Italian food. This routine has become habitual because of our club’s month-long stretches of away games. In these away games, we compete against teams up and down the East Coast, ranging from South Carolina United in Columbia, South Carolina, to McLean Youth Soccer club in Northern Virginia. Along with these games, we typically play in four showcases a year; this year they are in Houston, Phoenix, Sanford, and Somerset, New Jersey. The showcases are run by our league, the ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) and consist of teams within the league.

Our team plays for Richmond United, a soccer club in Richmond which rosters players from the greater Richmond area, Norfolk, Williamsburg, and Charlottesville. We play year-round soccer in the ECNL with preseason beginning in August, the regular season ending in December, and playoffs and nationals in the summer. Players have less training in the spring in order to focus on their high school team, but then go straight back to playoffs in June.

Two years ago, the ECNL age divisions were altered, which drastically changed team dynamics within Richmond United and many other clubs. The age divisions were made corresponding to birth year, opposed to August 1st through July 31st. This changed rosters significantly, but after training together six days each week for the past two years, our team of sixteen sophomores and juniors (“2001’s”) has developed a deep bond. Many girls on the team have been playing together for up to eight years, but each year new players are added to the roster. We have various personalities which stand out within the team, the most well-known, according to University of Miami commit and defender Taylor Shell, is “Lauren Bruns, our ‘team mom,’” because of her control on and off the field. Another notable personality within the group is Bri Behm, who according to Deep Run forward Bailey Tran, is “the funniest, most outgoing, and energetic person on the team.” The energy and amusement that the players bring to the team make the trainings and work worth it.

Although we don’t have many pregame traditions within the team, almost every player on our team has one or two pregame handshakes. I have three pregame handshakes with center back Maggie Fralin (‘20), Deep Run goalkeeper Maddie Dewey, and forward Kaitlyn Sanderson (‘19) before the first and second half. These handshakes are just for fun, but they have grown into a superstitious and important part of our pregame routine.

There is a significant time commitment as a player to our team, mostly due to the heavy travel. Practices are held at five different complexes: West Creek Park, Ukrop Park, Striker Park, Capital Park, and River City Sports Complex. These complexes are scattered throughout the Richmond area, which creates a significant amount of travel for the players living in Richmond. This time commitment is even larger for players living in Williamsburg and Virginia Beach. University of South Carolina commit and midfielder Brianna Behm, who lives in Williamsburg, comments on the amount of travel, saying, “it is a lot of travel, about six days a week, but the training and games are worth it. It can be long and tiring, but it’s usually a lot of fun too, especially the showcases.” Along with the travel included with the training sessions, our away games on weekends, August through December, require additional travel. We play each team in our conference twice a year, which equates to at least seven away games per season, and we have four or five showcases a year.

The ECNL showcases are large events consisting of about 200 teams from the eight ECNL conferences. Each team plays three out-of-conference games within the three-day event, which brings recruits from around the country. “It gives us the opportunity to play higher quality teams from all over the country, that we would otherwise not be able to play. We have to come together as a team more in order to win those games,” stated Clemson University commit Lauren Bruns. Although these showcases can cause many nerves and pressure, they ultimately bring our team together. Bruns commented on how we become such good friends because “we are forced to spend so much time together.”

Since beginning in 2013, Richmond United has grown and become more successful in the ECNL. Our team of 2001’s has become very close, through winning streaks and losing streaks, and it is continuing to bond, grow, and improve. We have two more months of regular season left until we transfer into high school season, and then we prepare for ECNL playoffs again in June. Goalkeeper Dewey said, “we have two months left to qualify for playoffs, and we could not be more excited.”

Picture and video credit: Heather Marshall.

About the author

Kate is a junior at Collegiate.