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Manya's Musings - U-21s Arrive in Iceland

When forward Manya Makoski was named to the 2004 U.S. Under-21 Nordic Cup Team, the good people in the U.S. Soccer Communications Department rejoiced. Not because we want to see Manya further her soccer career – which we certainly do – but because it meant more editions of "Manya’s Musings." The Arizona State junior checks in from New Jersey and Iceland, where the U.S. team is preparing to open play in the 14th annual Nordic Cup, the top competition in the world for U-21 women that is held every summer in a northern European country. The USA will be going for its unprecedented sixth straight Nordic Cup title.

New Jersey, July 16-18, 2004

Our seven months of preparation for the 2004 Nordic Cup wound up with a three-day training camp in New Jersey, where we logged a 1-0 victory against the U.S. U-19 Women’s National Team in our last match before leaving for Iceland. The win kicked us off into the right direction towards competing for our sixth straight Nordic Cup title, as did the unbelievably comfortable beds provided by the Marriott Hotel, which were particularly helpful as I tend to spend most of my down time napping, reading, watching TV, snacking or writing this journal, all of which can be done from bed. However, the cold rain of the northeast that we experienced in New Jersey helped give us a taste of the possible weather in Iceland.

Some Roommate Line-ups from New Jersey

Six-foot-two goalkeeper KJ Spisak and me, Manya Makoski (standing proud at 5-foot-3) were paired as roommates because we are the tallest and the shortest players on the team, respectively of course. Standing next to KJ, I feel like I’m closer to being 2-foot-6 than 6-foot-2. I can’t believe I’m almost a foot shorter than KJ. Good thing that I am not the goalkeeper.

Midfielder Julianne "Lu" Sitch and midfielder Joanna Lohman (thanks to her penalty kick, we won the game against the U-19s) always do "Rock, Paper, Scissors" to decide certain things such as who gets to take the first shower after training or who has to bring down their laundry to the equipment room. Lu has lost a lot. I guess she’s never heard of using the sneak attack of the "Atomic Bomb" that beats Rock, Paper AND scissors.

Forward Kelly Wilson, who about the nicest, quietest, sweetest girl from West Texas you will ever meet, will probably have a hard time falling asleep next to her spontaneous, gregarious and okay, let’s just say it – loud – roommate, in forward Tasha Kai, who is from Hawaii. However, this does give the Texan Wilson some extra time to work on her "Hawaiian flava" with our special "Forwards’ Handshake."

(Note to remember: I had no problem getting the handshake down. There still is a little "flava" left in this Connecticut girl.)

NYC Times Square

As we had a late flight to Europe the day we left, and despite a slightly rainy forecast, we headed up to New York City to wander around Time Square for a bit. The tons of huge billboards and electronic signs gave the city an overwhelming effect. However, there is no shortage of humor in the money-making mentality found in most people in NYC. Lu and I got pictures with the "Naked Cowboy" who sings along with his guitar music sporting a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and yes, "tighty whities." There’s nothing wrong with using your talent to help others…even when you’re the epitome of what NOT to do with your life. A satisfying meal at ESPNZone ended our fun in the city before heading to JFK Airport.

Kankles: Welcome to the Klub

Defender Keeley Dowling, who wears two black ankle braces whenever she plays, was excited to see two new members added to the "Kankles Klub." You see, Kankles is the condition that happens when there seems to be no difference in the width between your ankles and calves. Keeley calls her braces her "High-tops" and is disappointed that Nike has not yet put out a line of high-top soccer cleats. Since I still tend to roll my ankles even when I get taped, I now wear two bright white ankle braces. It takes some time to get used to them, but it’s reassuring that I’m first on everyone’s "Hottest Kankles" list. The other addition to the Klub is defender Jenny Farenbaugh who wears a black ankle brace now after a bruising ankle sprain last camp in June.

Iceland, July 19

Iceland So Far (Away)

Since I am in Iceland, four time zones away from my home, representing a United States soccer team, I am able to report back with a deeper insight than most tourists who come here. I read a lot about the "Land of Fire and Ice" when researching Iceland. Even Tasha has contributed a few ideas about what to share with the readers back home. Supposedly there are penguin-looking things that can fly. After she tells me this, I have a flashback…

It’s Wednesday, July 14, two days before I depart for the trip. I’m sitting at my kitchen table, staring past my cereal box at the buzzing TV. I’m watching my favorite cartoon show, but I interrupt myself with my short attention span. A big-beaked bird on the back of my cereal box seems to be squawking at me to read about how I can "Save the Puffins!" Yay! For $5 plus shipping and handling, I can buy a plush Puffin stuffed toy to help save this dwindling bird off the coasts of Iceland. ICELAND! Imagine that.

…I smile at Tasha as I tell her that they’re called Puffins.

Reykjavik: Around Town

Despite three hours of sleep on the plane, we somehow got through training even though we were gruesomely tired. There is only so much your body can fake. After training, there were more activities to keep us awake. Lu, KJ, and I ventured through Reykjavik (I still cannot pronounce that one), the capital of Iceland, in search of an Internet Café. Twenty minutes of brisk walking led us to the greatest sight on Earth, well maybe just Iceland. A sign that seemed to scream the words -- "Tourist Info" -- appeared across the street. One point goes to Iceland. Score: Iceland 1-U.S. 0. Another walk through town after dinner, this time along the water, gave us a breathtaking view. There is nothing more a writer wants than a serene landscape to take in so she can ponder her inner thoughts. I could have sat there for hours on end, but sleep was definitely calling to me.

I Like My Eggs Scrambled, Please

What is probably worse than having breakfast at every meal (cereal is the choice of champions), is having it in the shower. I’m know that there is breakfast-in-bed, but I’ve never heard of breakfast-in-the-shower. The rancid smell of the hot water steaming from the shower can pretty much be compared to rotten eggs. No, it is rotten eggs. I guess if you want to be clean from the sulfur added to the water here, you’ve got to wear nose plugs in the shower. One point, plus 100 bonus points goes to the U.S. for having non-scented showers. Score: Iceland 1-U.S. 101.

Goalkeeper, Nicole "Barnie" Barnhart expounds on the situation: "I was almost tempted to go for the extremely cold shower last night. The hot water gives off a putrid smell that sticks with you long after your cleansing shower."

Spa Treatment

On Tuesday, our day off from training, we decided to go to a place with hot springs called the Blue Lagoon. (No, Brooke Shields was not there). We were supposed to have a bus just for the team to take us there, but somehow a couple of travelers snuck on. Our head coach Chris Petrucelli’s protests were not convincing enough to get rid of the non-soccer players.

I watched the continuous rocky landscape go by during the long bus ride. The scenery changed as I saw white, puffy smoke emerging off in the distance. Some of the players muttered some of their thoughts about whether it was safe or not. Come on, what’s so dangerous about sitting in the warming waters of a volcano?

As the bus pulled into the parking lot, it was obvious that the popularity of this site was pretty high. Midfielder Kacey White’s comment struck the right chord of what we were all thinking. "Half of Iceland is here," Kacey joked, looking at about fifty cars and a couple of buses parked outside the entrance.

We exchanged our tickets for some blue rubber bracelets. They were kind of like those you get at carnivals that get you on all the rides. Because I never was able to get one of those little bracelets because I never met the height requirement (I haven’t always been this tall), it was pretty rewarding to finally wear one. The only difference that made it extra special was a sensor on it that locked a locker for your belongings. You were supposed to close the locker and then put your sensor up to the screen near the locker, which would remember which locker you had. When you needed to open up the locker, you just put the sensor in front of the screen again. This is something we definitely need in the USA. One point goes to Iceland. Score: Iceland 2-U.S. 101.

We quickly got out of the locker room. When we got to the deck, we saw a vast area of volcanic rocks with white, murky water creating a very, very big hot tub. More like a hot lake. Out in the distance was a hot spring spewing water and steam. All across the water were people floating, swimming, sitting, and just relaxing. Some of us were reluctant to get in. Nevertheless, after a little hesitation, we journeyed down the stairs into the water.

We posed for some pictures and then headed further out. We then saw the men of our team staff coming towards us with white stuff all over their faces and arms. Chris said it was exfoliating mud. Ten points for Chris for getting in touch with his feminine side. We put some on ourselves, and posed for more pictures. Tasha looked like Michael Keaton in "BeetleJuice" with her face totally covered in the white mud. Our team doctor, Kathy Weber (a.k.a. Doc), also looked hilarious with mud caked all over her face and neck.

After that we headed off to do some partner stretching in the water. While defender Jill Oakes and I were holding each other’s legs to stretch our hamstrings, Lu who was next to us stretching with forward Esmeralda Negron, questioned if the volcano would erupt. She then proceeded to say that "it would be cool" if it did. Great Lu. You ever heard of Pompei? That is not something I’d want to see. Minus ten points for Lu.

Eventually, we opted for sitting near the steaming hot spring. The mud on the bottom felt so soothing and icky at the same time. The feeling of the silky sand squishing through your toes was unforgettable. The water seemed to be getting to its boiling point and the rotten egg smell, I mean sulfuric smelling smoke, headed our way. We were forced up onto the small island of rocks behind us, realizing we had no escape. We decided to sacrifice and make a swim for it to cooler waters. After we barely escaped the cooking we would have all experienced, it was good to grab our towel and cool off.

Lu and I changed into some drier clothes. We walked around, going up on the rocks to take some pictures. From up above, it was so easy to see how much the bright white water contrasted with the dark volcanic rock. The gift shop offered some great postcards and gifts, but the lotions were a bit expensive. All in all it was a great Icelandic experience. We left Blue Lagoon relaxed and ready for our first game on Friday against Finland, even though were all covered with a salty film. We’ll just have to take a sulfur shower to get that off.