SOMERSET, N.J. (Via U.S. Soccer) – With U.S. Soccer Girls’ Development Academy Director Miriam Hickey and Women’s Youth National Team Director April Heinrichs looking on from the sideline, Sky Blue – PDA defeated FC Virginia 1-0 to kick off the inaugural season of the Girls’ DA.
The final score may have favored the home team, but both teams were part of a historic day for women’s soccer in the United States.
“This is an incredible day for women’s soccer,” Hickey said. “The parents, players and coaches here are part of a historic game, but the entire soccer community is part of a groundbreaking movement for the future of females in our sport. The focus on individual player development, ahead of winning, is what will forever forge the new pathway to the NWSL and the Women’s National Team.”
After a scoreless first half, Sky Blue – PDA forward Natalia Ramirez made history, scoring the first-ever live streamed goal of the Girls’ Development Academy in the 67th minute. The buildup started with a service into the box from defender Faith Rosenblatt. After the ball took a deflection off the defense, and found the feet of Ramirez, the forward one-touched the ball from right to left, skipping over the keeper before volleying home the finish with her left foot.
“Natalia reads the game well and she’s very tricky,” Sky Blue – PDA head coach and Academy Director Nick Heinemann said. “She gets into positions like you saw on the goal. She’s there, she’s always in the right place and finds ways to score.”
Before the game kicked off, both Starting XI’s met at midfield and team captains Nicky Chico and Nicole Sellers spoke into the venue microphone to take the Think Taylor pledge, as part of Concussion Awareness Week across the country. The initiative, founded by former U.S. Men’s National Team forward Taylor Twellman, encourages athletes of all ages to take an oath to be educated on concussion symptoms, honest in their self-evaluation of injuries and supportive of anyone with a concussion. Twellman was on hand at the game and excited to see the collaboration between ThinkTaylor, U.S. Soccer’s player health and safety program Recognize to Recover and the Development Academy.
“When you look at my history, dealing with post-concussion syndrome, and my history playing with the U.S. Men’s National Team, a big part of my job now is to give back,” Twellman said. “But a lot of the credit goes to the United States Soccer Federation, because they’ve been proactive in dealing with this. Obviously, the Recognize to Recover program is the only of its kind in the world about player health and player safety. The Federation partnered with my foundation and every player will take the #TTPledge.”
With 108 games kicking off across four age groups (U-14, U-15, U-16/17, U-18/19) during opening weekend of the Girls’ Academy, the live-streamed game represented much more than a highly-competitive fixture between top talent from New Jersey and Virginia. Following 10 years of progress for the Boys’ Development Academy, the Girls’ program was first announced in February 2016. Today, the plan came to fruition.
Despite finishing on the losing end of the 1-0 score-line, U.S. Soccer ‘A’ License and FC Virginia head coach Julie Shackford acknowledged the magnitude of the day and the significance of the Academy to the Chantilly, Va. club and its players.
“It’s been a phenomenal day,” Shackford said. “You just saw a really high-level game. Both teams should be really proud that they represented the Development Academy in getting the game out there for people to see.”
The Girls’ Academy is the highest level of girls’ youth soccer in the U.S., and its start represents the implementation of Development Academy philosophy and standards for the most-committed youth clubs across the country. Academy clubs have an increased focus on training (minimum four training sessions per week) and play fewer total games in favor of more meaningful contests using international standards. The program prioritizes individual development ahead of winning team trophies and titles.