Thursday, July 12, 2012

Teenagers Marbury and Jordan shine under pressure

Mead's Kara Marbury (L) and Central Valley's Allison Jordan (R) - Photos: Gerald Barnhart
The WPSL Northwest Division title is up for grabs this weekend for the Spokane Shine. But no matter the results, the outlook looks bright for the club beyond the two matches versus fellow contender Emerald City FC (Friday, 7:00 pm PT) and winless Oregon Rush (Saturday, 2:00 pm PT) at Joe Albi Stadium. High school standouts Kara Marbury (Mead) and Allison Jordan (Central Valley) are a key factor in that potential.

“I am really excited for the next few years and what’s gonna happen. [Marbury] is gonna be something special for Spokane Shine fans for hopefully years to come, and she’s only 16,” said Spokane Shine head coach Jason Quintero, echoing similar thoughts later about 17-year old Allison Jordan. “Right now, just the growth she’s had in the past month, I don’t know what she’s gonna be like in a couple years for us – it’s gonna be something special.”

The two have quickly become important cogs for the Shine, playing crucial roles in last weekend’s pair of 1-0 victories at home against Eugene Metro FC and on the road against the Portland Rain. Marbury scored her first career goal with the Shine and Jordan made her first two starts with the team, helping guide a side utilizing a three-man back line for the first time to a pair of shutouts that eliminated both opponents from postseason contention.

Though both are teenagers, their stories are rather different, starting with how the two came to the Shine.

Marbury - Facebook Gallery
Marbury owes her bright future, in part, to her mother, who reached out to Quintero mid-summer last year with a simple question: What is the age limit for the WPSL? The coach replied that although there wasn’t one, most of the players are 18-22. She told him of her 15-year old daughter and though he was not expecting much, invited to go ahead and come on out. The rest is history.

“She showed up and just totally held her own, and obviously she’s a physical specimen – something special,” Quintero said of first seeing Marbury.

While Quintero was looking into the future, Marbury was dealing with the present.

“Last year was really hard because I came at the end of the season. I think I only played in 2-3 games,” she said. “And I think that was just really hard because I was even younger then and I didn’t know anybody, but this year has been way better because everybody was so welcoming and I’ve been with the girls longer, so I think that transitioned a lot into the game.”

The striker has quickly grown from a fringe player coming off the bench to an attacker that Quintero is quickly relying upon to produce up front for the Shine, who have struggled to find the back of the net with any consistency.

“Her confidence has gone through the roof,” he said of her performance of late. “She started off kinda just struggling doing the basic things that she knows she can do. I think when you are that young playing at this level, it’s just a whirlwind of the game going around you and you are trying to fit into that game.

The Issaquah defense tracks Marbury in home opener
“And now - it being July - its way different for her than it was in May. It is where she feels she can dictate the pace of that whirlwind and the confidence she has gained from being a major part of this team and playing significant minutes more and more as the season’s progressed. Her technical ability is improving at a great pace and her ability to read the game has improved so much in just the past month.

Quintero was not surprised by difficulties she faced in the change in the level of play around her, but is enthused about how she is managing them and charging through them.

“Obviously this is quite a step up from youth soccer and she’s adapting really well and she’s easy to teach.

“She still gets frustrated a little bit easily and gets a little bit reckless, but I would rather coach a player where we try to restrain that passion than to try to push that passion into a play because that is just impossible,” he added. “She’s aggressive; she’s passionate about the game. She’s been fantastic for us, and I’m excited for her. Last year she just came in late in the season; got a sniff of it, and this year she is starting to become a really important player.

Quintero could not hold back the praise Friday after she scored the winning goal against Eugene. “She’s been improving so much week by week just in terms of confidence. You gotta remember some of our starters are 22-23 year old and she’s 16 years old, which is pretty much a culture shock for her. It’s just her gaining confidence week to week and doing the simple things well and then producing moments of magic when she can. 

“That comes from her understanding the game tactically a lot better than she did a month ago,” he added about play on the goal and another close call that missed by inches within minutes of tally. “You can get away with a lot when you are the biggest, strongest kid in youth soccer and at this level she’s just starting to realize what she’s capable of. She uses that and puts smart runs on the field and her athletic ability is second to none, she’s freak of nature.”

A freak of nature - something Marbury chuckled at hearing about prior to training Tuesday, replying with a grin, “I guess I would have to agree with him.”

“I was proud because I didn’t think I was really ever gonna score,” she said of finally finding the back of the net. “So I was really happy.” 

Is she more confident now? “Maybe a little,” a little she replied with a smile.

“She has had a good week for her in general,” Quintero said after the match, referring to her commitment to the University of Illinois earlier in the week. News he learned at training the night before.

And perhaps that decision played just as big a role as the growing confidence in Marbury having one of her best performances of the season. It certainly seemed like it was a large weight that had been lifted off her shoulders as she discussed the decision.

“It was a long process and it was really stressful. I had gone there to visit, but now it’s over, everything’s just better,” she said of choosing where she wanted to play collegiately, even though she still has another year of high school remaining.

“It was really fun,” she said of the visit to Champaign. “[Coach Janet Rayfield] is really nice, and I met up with the girls and they are really nice. And I really enjoyed the campus, so that was fun. I think [chose it] mostly because of the coaching and the education that they have there, and then the team… just felt right.”

Though she is planning to go into Kinesiology (physical therapy), Marbury tends to live more in the moment when it comes to soccer, looking lightly upon the past and not much further than the upcoming weekend in the future.

“I was varsity player in my freshman and sophomore years, and it was really good. We did really good last year; it’s been fun,” she said of her career thus far at Mead. As for her club career, she did not have any highlight moments that came immediately to mind, focusing more on the camaraderie among the team. “I think there were a few [highlights], mostly with Washington Premier I’d have to say because that team is really close and I enjoy every moment with them.”

“I think these are gonna be our hardest games just because it is the end of the season and you want to win, obviously. And I think it’s gonna be a struggle, but I think we’ll do well,” she said of the upcoming weekend after saying she didn’t really have any goals for the next year as she prepares for college.  

At the other end of the field, Jordan already knew where she was going to be going to school before the phone even rang with Quintero on the other end. That was because her future college coach – Justin Wagar of the University of New Mexico-Highlands – was the one that reached out to the Shine coach, recommending he give the Central Valley defender a look, telling him that she had ‘improved a ton’ in recent years and that he was bringing her down to Highlands as a late commitment for next fall.

Jordan - Facebook Gallery
“I’d known her from before, she was actually in our youth club, but this was four years ago. She had since changed to a different club, but I knew who she was,” Quintero said.

“At the beginning of the season – she’s one of the fastest kids in the state – she had state track, she had graduation and this and that going on, so we didn’t see her as much as we’d like to. And then once she got done with all that and had time to come out to every training and come to games and stuff, she caught on really quick.”

“She came out not really expecting much,” he said of her introduction to the team. “She went on the first trip and barely played. I asked her what’d you think? And she was ‘I’m kinda scared to go in there and mess up.’ I was like ‘don’t worry about it.’”

“And now all of a sudden it’s the end of the season and you would never of known she’s 17 years old and was terrified a month ago. So it’s another played where she’s finally getting that confidence week by week, practice by practice, training by training where she feels she can be an important part of the team. She’s another player to where I am excited.”

Initially enthralled by the speed of the higher level, Jordan is more intrigued by the team dynamic of the Shine.

“Well, the game is a lot quicker than I’ve ever played before so just practicing has made me improve a whole bunch,” she said. “And I got pretty lucky this last weekend because our defender Chelsie [Breen] was unable to make it so I got to play.

“It was really fun. Everybody just works together. It’s a really quick-paced game. Everybody wants to be there and wants to play; and tries hard and works for each other. [It] is very different from the club team where everybody was kinda tired of soccer and wanted to just be done, and it was kind of more of a waste of time than ‘this is awesome, I want to keep playing.’

It was a feeling she echoed about her final high school season at Central Valley.

“My senior year was the best. As a team I feel like we played together as a team more than other schools. I think we did pretty good. I made First-Team All-GSL my senior year. We made State which was really cool. Pretty unexpected; we were ranked pretty low for the GSL and we got first in GSL which was kinda cool - so we showed everybody.”

The anxious feelings of that first trip to Oregon resurfaced last week when she learned that Quintero was going to be calling upon her to step in as a starter in two critical matches for the playoff chase.

“I was more nervous than anything. I didn’t want to mess up for everybody else because being in the back line and everything… but then once I started getting into it - got my first couple touches – I was like, ‘okay I’m fine, I’m just gonna play now.’”

With two shutouts, it turned out pretty well.

“[It was] really good, really good. I love playing with Maggie [Schrader] in the back. Maggie and Shannon [Lindsay] are really awesome defenders to play with. I am really lucky.”

After surviving that first, Jordan is ready getting ready for the challenges of college soccer at Highlands, where she will play alongside current Shine teammate Alyssa Saucedo, another recommendation Quintero received from Wagar.

“She has told me a lot about the school and stuff so I have gotten a lot of information about what to look for at Highlands and stuff,” Jordan said of Saucedo.

“There’s like 30 girls on the team so one of my goals is to start, hopefully – that would be cool, to actually play since there are so many girls,” she said of her immediate collegiate goals. “Definitely fitness, pass all the fitness requirements because you have to pass all those in order to even get a jersey.”

There is little doubt the Shine will have helped in that regard.  “Absolutely; I’ve already improved, I feel like. I’m ready and more confident going into the play at college level now,” she replied.

Choosing to leave home for New Mexico, though, was a tough choice.

“The coach came and talked to me and I was a little skeptical about it because it was really far away from home and that really wasn’t what I wanted.

“He came to our house over Christmas break and talked to us, and I fell in love with the coach and everything. So I went down there and the school was alright, the team was really cool; and I thought it would be a really good life-changing experience for me. So I went with it. Little nervous but... I just really love the coach. I think it’s gonna be a really different level of soccer for me."