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LOSC team gets a visit (and a game) from Kenyan squad

by: Matthew Sherman, 
Lake Oswego and Kenyan players greet each other before a practice at Luscher Farm on Monday. The Kenyan players stayed with the LOSC players for two days, attending school with them as well.

The Lake Oswego Soccer Club's U17 Premier girls' team will play for a state championship this weekend and, as one might expect, it is in the midst of an intense week of practice.

But, in-between last week's semifinal victory and the looming title game, the girls experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

On Monday night, the Soul Crew gathered at the turf field at Luscher Farm a bit more anxious than usual.

Then the vans arrived carrying the Kenyan soccer team which was going to be practicing with them.

Lake Oswego was the latest stop for the team which hails from one of Kenya's poorest regions.

Through Nike and CARE the team is touring various soccer clubs around the country, playing friendly games and spending time with the host teams along the way.

'This is part of an initiative to empower women through sports. Many of these women are playing soccer against their parents' wishes, some of them have children of their own. This is a gateway to opportunities for them,' said CARE's Anna Phillips, the team's group leader.

The two teams met with the Kenyans checking out the artificial turf. In Africa it is rare for their games to even occur on grass.

Then Everlyn Akinyi took center stage as both teams gathered in a circle around her. Akinyi led them in a warm-up involving chants and dancing.

'That was way better than stretching,' a Soul Crew player said afterwards.

Then the teams took to the field, splitting up for a scrimmage with the team's complimenting each other on precise passes and well-struck shots.

The Kenyan team arrived earlier in the day and each player would spend the next two days staying with a host family. The girls would visit school with the LOSC players and, on Tuesday, they played in a friendly game at the Nike complex in Beaverton.

Nike painted the soccer club's logo on one end of the field and the CARE logo on the other. Fittingly, that game ended in a 3-3 tie.

'They had a blend of some very skillful players and played an offsides trap that we weren't used to,' said Fraser Morrison, the U17 team's coach.

It was a whirlwind trip for both of the teams, but particularly for the Kenyans, who have already been to Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala. and San Diego.

'Any activity (outside of Africa) would floor these girls,' Phillips said of the players, the majority of whom had never been out of the country before. 'They've really enjoyed sharing their own culture and showing the positive sides of Africa,' Phillips said.

After the game on Tuesday, the team toured the Nike campus and then began its return trip to Kenya that evening.

The Soul Crew, meanwhile, will go back to preparing for its state title match and an upcoming regional tournament in Hawaii.

But, despite the busy week, the team was thrilled at the unique experience.

'I was anxious to see how it would be received. I didn't know if we'd be able to find places for the girls to stay but within a couple hours of mentioning it to the girls and the families, we had enough people,' Morrison said.