On the Field with the U.S. Team at the U-17 Women’s Soccer Championship

by Aisling Toolan
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Over the past two weeks I’ve been with the U.S. team at the CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Soccer Championship in Montego Bay, Jamaica. This tournament is a competition for women’s national teams in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean in which the athletes are under 17 years old. Eight teams arrived here aiming to win the championship and a spot at next year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. I am here working with the team as their physical therapist, and I’ve been very proud to be part of a team which has represented their country so well.

Our U.S. team is made up of 20 players, 12 born in 1997, six born in 1998, and two born in 1999, and they hail from all over the States. Several of our players played their first international match for their country in this tournament, and indeed many have scored their first goal for the National Team as well.

The team is supported here in Jamaica by a highly-skilled sports medicine staff. It has been a pleasure to work as part of a multi-disciplinary team alongside our team physician, massage therapist and performance coach. Our goal is to provide the best level of medical care possible for all players, and to maximize the performance of the team as a whole. With the tournament format set up so that teams play a game every second day, we have had to strategize with the coaching staff on how best to enable our players to recover in between games. Hydration, nutrition, massage, rehabilitation and recovery sessions are all a key part of this plan.

Montego Bay has been a great host city and the Jamaican fans have flocked to Catherine Hall Stadium to support their team in the thousands. We are fortunate to be staying in a beautiful beachside resort, where we have been well taken care of. The staff favorite on the menu is jerk chicken; a local dish made of chicken marinated in a spicy jerk sauce that is sure to raise your temperature a degree or three.

Our team got off to a great start in the opening game of the tournament with a powerful 8-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago. The girls followed that up with a 7-0 win over Guatemala and a 2-0 win against North American rivals Canada. With three wins from three games, the team headed into the semifinal match against Mexico on Thursday aiming for a spot in the championship final. They played a fierce match, and tied with Mexico 1-1 in regular time, but ultimately lost on penalty kicks.

While the outcome wasn’t what we’d hoped, there has been a real joy in watching this group of very talented young women realize their dream of representing their country, and they have done so with remarkable strength, skill, and heart. Being able to support them on their journey has been an honor and a privilege. Hopefully this tournament is just the beginning of a long and successful career for each of these players in the United States jersey. I couldn’t be prouder of them!

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Aisling Toolan is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Board Certified Specialist in Sports Physical Therapy, and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the Rehabilitation Department at Hospital for Special Surgery. She serves as team physical therapist with the U17 US Women’s National Soccer team.

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