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Multinational team drives SA girls soccer in US

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Team Maccabi South Africa’s girls’ soccer coach Darryn Edinburg is counting on his squad to have a special kind of gees at the JCC (Jewish Community Center) Maccabi Games in Fort Lauderdale, United States (US), this month.

That’s because two America-based players from JCC San Diego have joined the nine South Africans in his multinational team. “I’m excited about having the US girls,” says Edinburg, a Johannesburg physiotherapist. “We have to open up and see how the other girls do things and accommodate them. It’s an amazing life lesson for the South African girls”.

Luna Beyhan, a Grade 10 pupil at Herzlia who has been playing soccer since she was four, is the team’s captain and the vice-captain is Edinburg’s daughter, Liya, a Grade 9 pupil at King David Linksfield (KDL) who plays for the Gauteng Development League Ladies Highlands Park team.

On 7 August, the team lost their first game 7-3 against a combined US team from JCC Philadelphia, Ohio, and Cleveland – many of the teams are made up of different JCCs – before succumbing to a 4-2 defeat against JCC Dallas in a scorching hot Fort Lauderdale. Beyhan scored in both matches and that night, she was Team SA’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony. Her team played Argentina and Fort Lauderdale the following day.

Mia Kayle, 15, who plays for KDL’s U16A soccer team, and Herzlia’s Amy Distiller, 14, are excited to be representing Team SA at the games. “I was a bit apprehensive as I’ve never been to America before and it’s a long flight, but the organisers have been amazing,” Kayle says. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Besides goalkeeper Kayle and fullback/defensive midfielder Distiller, the other South Africans in the team are KDL’s Dakota Trakman, Raquel Bravo, Sabrina Cohen and Liya Edinburg; and Herzlia’s Izzy Abrahamson, Luna Beyhan, and Ruby Snaid.

“The potential of these girls is good,” Edinburg says. “The only obstacle from a preparation point of view was getting the Joburg and Cape Town girls together, which was difficult in terms of the timing of this tournament – it’s literally just after the school holidays. The girls trained in two separate units in Joburg and in Cape Town, and had a few practices in the US before the tournament.”

Nearly 2 000 Jewish teens from the US, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, Ukraine, Israel, Great Britain, and Mexico headed to Fort Lauderdale for the games, which take place from 6 to 11 August. Team SA is represented in dance and girls’ soccer, the other sports being baseball, basketball, ice hockey, girls’ volleyball, flag football, table tennis, tennis, and swimming.

The soccer at the games is seven-a-side. “It’s similar to the sevens rugby,” Edinburg says. “It’s pretty much on a full field, so there’s a lot of running and work to be done.”

He says Team SA’s Cape Town-based players play a lot of futsal, which is five-a-side, so they are used to small-sided games. “When I’ve been taking the Johannesburg girls for training, we’ve been playing small-sided games as well just to get used to the pace, movement, and difference of not being able to count on the other four players that you normally have. So we’re quite well prepared from a theoretical point of view.”

Though Kayle says she loves the “tranquillity” on the field, Distiller likes the outdoors, physicality, and athleticism and team environment associated with soccer.

Distiller, who captains the under-16 team of Cape Town club Badgers, has been watching the ongoing FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. “Although Amy likes to play more than she likes to watch, she has been following it and the Netball World Cup too,” says her mom, Suki.

The South African players were selected at trials in Johannesburg and Cape Town. “I went down a couple of months ago to Cape Town for the trials there,” Edinburg says, “and was very pleasantly surprised with the standard of the soccer players there.”

For the games, his players are donning kit with the JCC San Diego logo, and have the privilege of a green home strip and gold away strip.

The girls are being hosted by local Jewish families, including ex-pat Clive Horwitz, his wife, Debbie, and their son, Dylan, who is competing in swimming. “At the Maccabi Games, you stay all together as a country. But for the JCC, the girls are being split up into different groups. My daughter and three of her teammates are staying with the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Speaking to her on Zoom to introduce ourselves, she had tears in her eyes, saying that it was such a mitzvah for them to host the kids.”

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