U.S. U-18 WNT Player Kelly Cobb is Blazing a Trail from the 49th State
With millions of teenage girls playing soccer across the country, it’s never easy earning an invitation to any U.S. youth Women’s National Team training camp. But players from girls’ soccer hotbeds like California, Texas and Florida, just to name a few, have some advantages in their quest to join their sport’s elite.
They play on nice fields with powerhouse clubs that feature large coaching and support staffs, in great year-round weather and against a high level competition that is just a short drive down wide freeways.
And of course, there are no wolves.
U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team player Kelly Cobb is from Eagle River in the area of Chugiak, Alaska, where her dad is a police officer and her mom is a nurse. She loves being outdoors and fishing, catching fresh halibut, lingcod, rock fish, silver salmon, pink salmon, and an occasional jellyfish. (She says they get stuck on the line sometimes). Her mom then does the cooking.
Her hometown of about 7,000 folks is an hour northeast of Anchorage. She lives at the picturesque base of Bear Mountain.
Oh, yeah, there are bears, too. But we’ll get back to that.
As much as she loves living in Alaska, Cobb knows that she faces some challenges in her soccer development that are foreign to many of her teammates on the U.S. U-18s.
She can play outside only about five months a year, basically from the end of April through perhaps the beginning of October. After that, it’s training indoors, although Alaska youth soccer took a great step forward with the recent opening of The Dome in Anchorage, a state-of-the-art indoor sports complex that features a 120-yard synthetic turf soccer field. It’s the largest air-supported structure of its kind anywhere in North America.
Still, the Dome is an hour drive each way from Eagle River and Cobb has to make that trek to the airport for any soccer trip outside the state as well as for practice with her club, the Cook Inlet Velocity. When she’s not able to get to Anchorage, her winter training takes place inside a cracker box gymnasium or on small indoor tracks.
But don’t think for a moment that Cobb is complaining. She loves her state, her community and her teams. She just knows that she has to work a little bit harder, so she does just that, fueled by a pride she carries from the Land of the Midnight Sun every time she comes down to the Lower 48.
“It’s a great feeling to represent Alaska,” she said during a break between trainings with the U-18s at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. “It’s unique and it’s a great community to grow up in and everyone supports you. But there certainly is a huge difference in the speed of play when I come to the national team camps. There is just one other team that my club team can play in Alaska to prepare us for outside tournaments. We have to train extra hard, but I don’t mind. I like it.”
Sure, there was a hybrid wolf (half dog, half wolf) that was terrorizing her neighborhood for a while, eating chickens and bunnies and attacking her neighbor’s dog. And yes, one time during a club game a moose wandered onto the field and stood right in front of the goal. He wouldn’t move, so they had to cancel the match. (Editor’s Note: That moose would have made a heck of a goalkeeper).
And then there was the time that Cobb was running up an icy mountain when a good sized black bear ambled across the road about 60 feet in front of her.
“I stopped running, let him cross, turned around and went back,” said Cobb, who didn’t seem at all frazzled about her close encounter of a furry kind.
But wait, she was running up an icy mountain?
“I try to do a lot of hard work on my fitness and sometimes you have to suck it up and go outdoors,” said Cobb, who is playing this week with a few players whose only contact with ice has been from the ice-makers on their refrigerators. “I wear spikes on my shoes. They have sort of grippers on the bottom so you can run. I couldn’t out-run a bear, but luckily he didn’t seem interested in me.”
But native Alaskan wildlife aside, Cobb has even more difficult challenges at national team camp as she competes with the talented players from all over the country.
“Everything is just a huge difference,” said Cobb, who at a solidly built 5-9 comes from the Abby Wambach school of pounding defenses into submission. “It’s a big step from any other level. I think I’ve doing pretty well, and training is going well, but I know I have to keep working hard on all parts of my game - my speed of play, one-touch passing and fitness, of course - because I want to keep getting invited back.”
Those invitations do come with some surprises, though, like the Los Angeles International Airport.
“When we arrived at the airport, I thought I was going to die,” said Cobb of the hustle and busy of the nation’s sixth busiest airport, which during peak travel times handles 170,000 passengers per day, or 24 times more people than live in her hometown. “Being outdoors all the time in Alaska, it’s gorgeous, with all the nature and wildlife. It’s far away from city life.”
Welcome to the bright lights of Los Angeles, Kelly! And welcome to the highest level of youth soccer, a place she has certainly earned. Cobb’s first experience with the national teams came last January at the U.S. Under-20 WNT Super Camp in San Diego, which featured players from the U-20 and U-18 age groups. At the camp, she scored four times in a romp over a San Diego women’s select team and also scored in an intra-squad scrimmage, earning a call-up to this first U.S. Under-18 camp of the year.
Several players from Alaska have been in the U.S. youth training camps in the past, including Carly Butcher, who plays at USC and current U.S. Under-20 Player Pool member Alev Perusse, who is from the same town as Cobb and attends the same high school.
Alaska, however, is one of 20 states that have yet to place a player on the U.S. Women’s National Team and while Cobb would love to be the first, she has more short-term goals in mind.
“I just want to become the best player I can be,” said the Chugiak High School sophomore, who takes pride in the toughness naturally bred into players from Alaska. “Coming down here and working with all these great players and coaches is just a wonderful learning experience. I want to take it back and share it with the girls in Alaska, to be a leader for the girls up there.”
Admittedly a bit shy, Cobb is warming up to her new teammates and getting more comfortable with the environment on the U.S. team, but when asked if she would invite some of her new friends to come to Alaska, she wasn’t sure it would be their ideal Spring Break destination.
“For sure they are welcome,” she said. “They are really great girls. But I doubt they would want to come. It’s probably too cold for them.”
That and, of course, the bears.