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Nottingham Forest Ladies were gifted the opportunity to join the Forest men on their pre-season tour of Washington DC and Richmond last week.
The squad and management team flew out on Monday, 12 July with high hopes and a steely determination to do well both on and off the field. Whilst the latter was accomplished, the former proved a mountain too high as Washington Freedom stamped their authority in both games.
Preparation for the two games in the States, including two pre season friendly victories over both Sheffield Wednesday and Doncaster Rovers Belles, seemingly put Forest Ladies in good stead for the American side. But a mix of searing heat, humidity, exhausting travel and jet lag had already taken its toll on the squad before both kick offs.
Still, spirits were high and the spectacular RFK stadium (seating 56,000) and the professional manner in which Forest were treated created an overwhelming euphoria for the first game against the Freedom.
With both sides lining up for their national anthems, the scene was set but the first half proved drastic for Forest as Washington Freedom went into the changing rooms 5-0 up. USA international Jen Grubbs, Laura Schott, Ali Krieger (2) and Laura Stoecker put The Freedom ahead against a Forest side who were overwhelmed by the sheer power of their opponents who demonstrated clean passing skills and strength and vision that was a sight to behold and appreciate.
The second half saw substitutions for Forest and a 'never say die' attitude kept the scoreline down to three goals in the last 45 minutes. Forest did play much better in the second half but they could not defend goals from Ali Krieger who completed her hat trick, Lori Lindsay and Natalie Arias.
The game showed that Forest have a long way to go as a club to read the high standards of some of the American sides, and showed the divide between the Midlands Combination level and the WUSA league. Still it was Forest who were given the opportunity, and the 300+ travelling Forest Fans gave the girls a standing ovation for their spirited efforts in such a high profile women's international friendly.
Gifts were exchanged at the final whistle and Forest were sent off to lick their wounds and prepare for the second game in Richmond.
On arrival in Richmond the Forest Ladies squad were invited to sign autographs at a girls' Capital One (Forest's Sponsors) Coaching Clinic and co-ordinate the coaching of a group of girls from the community. Forest have several qualified members of the squad who spearheaded a rotating coaching clinic for 60 girls. Split into age groups (Under 9, Under 10, Under 12, Under 13 and Under 15) there were five different exercises and the whole event was a huge success.
A much earned rest and early night followed by pre-match training before the second game in Richmond against another strong Washington Freedom Side. Same old story and a poor start by Forest saw Forest going 3-0 behind in the opening 12 minutes, and 5-0 at half time (again). A return at the second half saw Forest finally find their feet - and the ball. They began to play as they normally do, with ball to Forest feet and an organised defence and this resulted in some shots on the Freedom goal, attempts from Michelle Shooter and Catherine Lawson being dealt with by the keeper. A foul on Dani Duffy gave Catherine Lawson an opportunity to bend a 20-yard free kick, which was tipped onto the crossbar by the keeper.
This gave Forest momentum and inspired a young and gifted Dani Duffy to run through the Washington Defence and launch an 18-yard shot into the back of the Washington net. This inspired the Forest fans to launch into voice and congratulate their side. There were two more goals from The Freedom, resulting in a 7-1 scoreline.
Player- manager Lisa Dawkins said the girls were disappointed overall but loved the experience: "Playing in both stadiums was fantastic and solar systems away from our own home ground conditions, but the girls are feeling down about the results. We know we could have played better. We've been training three times a week in preparation for this trip, but they were so much fitter than us. They were a coach's dream and it won't do us any harm in learning lessons from both games. We will be taking home the videos and studying them intensely. Our focus now must be on gaining promotion from the Midland Combination League back in the UK in order to play higher standard teams on a regular basis. Overall though this has been a humbling yet truly fantastic experience and one on which we must build for this coming season. Washington Freedom were a credit to the sport of Ladies Football and I am proud to have played against them."
Goalscorer, 15-year-old Dani Duffy could not hide her delight: "This has to be the best experience of my footballing life so far. To score against Washington Freedom was amazing, and to see and play against some USA internationals was awesome."
Club Chairperson and tour organiser PJ Andrews added: "If you look at the trip based purely on results, you would have to be disappointed, but the Manager wanted to give every squad member a playing opportunity to share this fantastic experience so there was maximum substitutions which does affect the balance. However, the team showed spirit, determination and definite potential so I'm convinced that if Forest were playing week in week out against this standard, in this heat, without travelling factors etc, the scoreline would have been very respectable. If clubs such as ours and others from the UK want to develop to this standard and reap the same financial rewards that Washington Freedom do then those Clubs, the FA, local Football Associations, sponsors and grant funding needs to continue to be supported and enhanced accordingly. Forest Ladies are a long way behind some of the Premiership Ladies sides in some ways, mostly due to lack of funds and resource, but have huge ambition, so with that in mind they have done very well.
"In particular I am delighted with activities off the field of play including our contribution to the Coaching of 60 American Children and various other PR activities, which has helped us raise the profile of 'soccer' in the USA and enabled Forest Ladies project a professional and friendly image on behalf of the UK. That is something the FA, Hope Powell and all of the UK girls and Ladies football teams can feel proud of &emdash; as I am, that's a credit to the Management Team and the squad."
The ladies team also had the chance to share an evening with the Forest Squad after the game on Friday, 16 July. This again helped align both clubs together and was just another highlight to a great trip. Forest Ladies would like to thank NFFC for this opportunity and Capital One for their support.
Forest Ladies have been busy in other areas too, with them hosting the 23rd Victoria Trophy girls and ladies football tournament.
Jet lagged but still committed, the first team travelled back to attend, though not to play, the tournament and help out other committee and personnel run the event.
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