From Southwest Virginia to Sweden: ‘Soccer Ambassadors’ set to represent area at Gothia Cup

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While the Women’s World Cup is over, the largest youth soccer tournament in the world is just about to begin.

The Gothia Cup in Sweden hosts around 1700 teams from 80 nations and Roanoke’s VBR Star Soccer club will be represented among them.

The club has sent teams to the Gothia Cup for more than two decades, but for several players, this will be their first trip overseas to play soccer.

“I’ve been looking forward to it since they offered it to me,” VBR Star Under-14 goalkeeper Bella Gilliland said. “I’m anticipating to see some of the greatest teams I’ve ever seen besides like sports on TV.”

Gilliland’s love for soccer began when she was in kindergarten. And it wasn’t too long after that she began taking the sport seriously.

“Around my third grade year when I came to this travel team I was like ‘hmm, maybe I have a chance to do this for a living’,” Gilliland said.

This week, Gilliland takes the next step in making that career become a reality when she travels to Gothenburg, Sweden with her team.

“I’m hoping to get out more skill, learning things that I knew I didn’t know because I can definitely build on a few of my own things,” Gilliland said.

Like Gilliland said, Brandon Crossan has been preparing for the event for nearly a year. His love for soccer began when he was eight.

“It was a my dad played when he was growing up. He was a high school coach and then coached here and that’s when I really enjoyed the game,” Crossan, a defender for the club’s under-15 squad, said. “My grandfather was a professional soccer player for over seas and that’s when I, I look up to him all the time.”

Crossan’s team will compete against groups from Sweden and England.

“It’s very exciting,” Crossan said. “It’s a good experience for our age group and first time we’ve ever done it.”

VBR Star executive director Danny Beamer has been to the Gothia Cup every year since the club started sending teams in 1995.

“They’ll see how much pride they have in their countries and they come back and respect the United States a lot more and appreciate what they have here,” Beamer said.

Beamer knows his kids will not just get to witness other cultures but also become soccer ambassadors for the United States and the Roanoke Valley.

“Kids from Southwest Virginia are just good kids,” Beamer said. “They’re great athletes. Great players but they also have good manners, they’re going to behave correctly and they’re going to represent the United States very well.”

The moment Gilliland is looking forward to the most isn’t on the pitch, but at the opening ceremony next Monday.

Gothia Cup Opening Ceremony (Courtesy: Gothia Cup)

“It’s so exciting to be trading around shirts and stuff with people from a different country,” Gilliland said. “I’ve never done that before.”

Just part of a unique experience that awaits in Sweden.

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