‘Once in a lifetime’: North Leeds U18 girls’ soccer team to play in Gothia Cup in Sweden

The U18 girls’ soccer team from North Leeds
The U18 girls’ soccer team from North Leeds will play in the Gothia Cup in Sweden this month. Pictured in their new WTC uniforms are: (back row, left to right) assistant coach/trainer Taylor Halladay, head coach Scott Halladay, Anna Whalen, Chloe Larabie, Gemma Caron, Jordon Billingham, Reese Clair, Keva McCreary, Emma Smallegange, Alyssa Smith, coach Anders Carson; (front): Asha Scheuermann, Gloria Felizardo-Kerr, Kieran Hanna, Addison Dwyre, Anneke Lake, Isabella Vander Byl and Anna Sophia Vander Byl. The team and about a dozen of their parents will head out on July 11 to return home on July 20. Photo credit: Submitted [Angie Hanna]
Posted on: July 4, 2024

The opportunity to play soccer in Sweden doesn’t come too often. But when it does, an entire community comes together.

The girls’ U18 North Leeds soccer team of the Township of Rideau Lakes is off to Sweden to play in the Gothia Cup, leaving July 11 for 10 days.

Scott Halladay is the head coach. He’s had this team for two years and decided this would be a fantastic group to take to this world-renowned tournament.

That’s a big commitment, considering it costs about $80,000 (a pay-and-go event) for the 12-person roster, coaching staff, and about a dozen parents. They’ve been fundraising for more than a year to get here.

“They’re a great bunch of girls,” he said on July 3.

When asked what was so special about this group, he said: “Everything. They get along well. Their attitudes, their desire and efforts; you couldn’t ask for a better group of girls. They have been awesome.”

What’s even more special is the opportunity to carry the Canadian flag during opening ceremonies.

“Our team was chosen to represent Canada and march into the stadium,” Halladay said. “Our flag bearer is Keva McCreary. My two captains, Kieran Hanna and Gemma Caron, will go on stage and take the oath. This is really cool and is in front of 50,000 people. It will be insane!”

Halladay said they will see a more physical game than what they play here in the Eastern Ontario Soccer League, in the combined U16-17-18 division.

“We’ve done lots of technical (work),” he said. “We’re a fairly aggressive team here, so I hope it will carry over when we go there.”

The U18 North Leeds soccer team is preparing for the trip to Sweden this month to take part in the Gothia Cup. Photo credit: Submitted [Angie Hanna]

There will be 32 teams in the U18 division at the Gothia Cup. The girls will play against three other teams in their group, decided by a round-robin format. How they finish in group play will determine if they play on the A or B side.

The Gothia Cup, held annually in Gothenburg, Sweden, is one of the world’s largest and most celebrated international youth soccer tournaments. Established in 1975, it has grown to attract teams from over 80 countries, featuring thousands of young athletes in various age categories, ranging from under-11 to under-18. The tournament typically spans one week in July and includes numerous matches played in a group stage format, followed by elimination rounds leading to the finals. Matches are held at various venues around Gothenburg, with the finals often occurring at the Gamla Ullevi stadium.

Halladay said this would be the first time on a plane for a lot of the girls. Three of the team members are unable to attend due to other commitments.

Angie Hanna is an excited mother of Kieran, one of the players. Both she and her daughter are looking forward to the experience.

“I’m really excited for this group of girls to be given the opportunity to participate in the Gothia Cup,” she said.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m proud of the team for all of their efforts, not only in sport but in fundraising as well. The community support has been absolutely incredible. I hope the girls have learned the value of contributing to their communities.”

Hanna said she’s sure the girls will learn many other valuable lessons. 

“The coaching staff and Michellyn Needham (VP of North Leeds Soccer Association) are exceptional examples of what it means to be role models and mentors in the community,” Hanna said. “This year my daughter exits her youth soccer experience with memories to last a lifetime. It just doesn’t get any better than this! We are excited and proud to represent Canada!”

Halladay said there are 13 Canadian teams playing in the tournament.

“I want to give them the experience,” he said as to the reason why he wanted to coach this team.

Halladay has coached high school and club soccer for 25 years. He’s been to Sweden once before – in 2010.

“It was probably a trip of a lifetime for some of the girls back in 2010,” he said. “Today, girls still talk about it when I see them.”

He said he wants this team to go with no expectations, just to enjoy the experience.

“It’s a chance for them to see part of the world they may never see again,” he said.

They will stay in Copenhagen for a day and a half, then the remainder in Gothenburg.

Halladay said he’s “blown away” by how generous the community has been and “obviously the parents are big supporters of this and they have done a lot of fundraising, too.”

It’s been a team and community effort, he said.

Anders Carson is a coach of this squad, and Taylor Halladay, Scott’s daughter, is the assistant coach/trainer.

Beyond the competitive aspect, the Gothia Cup is celebrated for its emphasis on cultural exchange and fostering international camaraderie among young athletes. The tournament kicks off with an elaborate opening ceremony, complete with cultural performances, parades, and fireworks, creating a memorable experience for participants. The event promotes values of teamwork, respect, and friendship, making it more than just a soccer competition. Many professional soccer players have participated in the Gothia Cup during their youth, marking it as a significant milestone in their development. Overall, the Gothia Cup offers young players a unique platform to showcase their talents, experience different cultures, and create lifelong memories.

“We’re going to have some fun and enjoy this trip,” Halladay said. “And enjoy the experience.”

On Tuesday, July 3, a few team members attended Rideau Lakes council with Mayor Arie Hoogenboom presenting them with a certificate of congratulation.

“We congratulate you on participating in an event of this magnitude,” the mayor said. “It requires extensive amounts of planning, fundraising and organization. All members involved are to be commended for their efforts and dedication. We wish you the best of luck and success.”Follow along with the team by visiting their Facebook page.

Hometown News
Author: Hometown News