UAE female football team pick up tips on tour of US
DOWNINGTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA // Jalila Al Nuaimi marvelled at the abilities of the Philadelphia Independence women's football team. Ms Al Nuaimi, 22, a striker for the UAE women's squad, said watching the players of the top team in the Women's Professional Soccer League in the United States perform rendered her speechless.
"I want to keep training that hard. I want to play at that level soon," she said last Thursday, while on a three-week tour of the United States with 19 of her teammates and their coach
During the trip the UAE players, aged between 14 and 27, had the chance to meet and train with the Independence and some other premier female football teams in the US, including the Anderson Monarchs and FC Virginia.
The tour, arranged by the UAE Embassy in Washington, is part of an initiative to promote women's sports at home, said Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE Ambassador to the United States.
"This visit to the US by the UAE team also marks a significant milestone in the growth of women's soccer in the UAE, and - in fact - many sports in which Emirati women participate. We are hopeful that this will be the first sports exchange of many," he said
Dana Al Marashi, head of the Heritage and Social Affairs Office at the UAE Embassy in Washington, echoed those sentiments and said the trip showcases "how far the UAE has come in terms of women's sports".
In addition to their time with the Independence, the UAE players led a sports clinic with the Anderson Monarchs, an all-girls football team from South Philadelphia that has nurtured five Olympic-level players. The US women's football team won the gold medal in the last two Olympic Games.
Connie Selby, coach of the UAE team, said that the trip was an important step for the team, as the girls were "able to see a different style of football and [experience life at] a professional club".
During her three years coaching the team, Selby said "this is the first time having so many young players. We have 10 girls under 16."
Val Henderson, the Independence's 25-year-old goalkeeper, said that even though many of the UAE players were young, she was "really impressed with how good they are".
Henderson hoped that the Independence would serve as a model for the UAE players, a sentiment echoed by her coach, Paul Riley.
He said he believed the Middle East would be the next important growth area for women's football and that it was a source of pride to be part of a process that might one day lead to the UAE fielding a World Cup-calibre women's football team.
"I think that the next generation [of football players] may be from the Middle East," he said. "There is a real opportunity for growth there. The main thing is to put a better structure for the youth in the UAE. This is a step for the greater development of that structure."
Off the pitch, the UAE team visited a number of Philadelphia landmarks, including the Liberty Bell and the "Rocky stairs", the 72 stone steps leading to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art made famous by Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky movies.
The team will ends its trip in the Washington, DC area, leading a DC Boys and Girls Club football clinic on July 13, and training at the Maryland Soccerplex in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Henderson, the goalkeeper with Independence, said. "Here in the US, women's soccer is very supported. It is inspiring to see these girls have a league and have something going for them,"