Superiorland soccer players learn from the pros at Superior Dome camp

Addie Ollila, left, and Nick Asmus take part in a youth soccer camp led by professionals held at the Superior Dome last week. (Submitted photo)

MARQUETTE — Several youth players from the Superiorland Soccer Association and the Marquette United Soccer Club travel program received a once-in-a-lifetime professional learning experience right at home this weekend.

Youth soccer camps were held at the Superior Dome Thursday through Saturday, which were led by Vlatko Andonovski, head coach of the Seattle Reign FC of the National Women’s Soccer League, as well as Seattle Reign player Jaycie Johnson and Sky Blue FC (New Jersey) player Shea Groom.

Johnson and Groom have also played for the Under-23 U.S. Women’s National Team. Professional coach and current associate head coach at Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Missouri, Goran Karadzov also assisted in the camp.

More than 60 players were estimated to have registered for the three-day camp, which was divided into 8-12 and 13-19 year-old groups.

SSA president Amy Niemi said the opportunity for players to get the professional experience without having to travel anywhere was a special one.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players to be here in the dome during winter break with professional coaches and players who can train and teach them things that they won’t get anywhere else in the United States.

“They’ve all been very excited, energetic and very much on board with the amazing opportunity we’ve provided to them.”

SSA and MUSC director of coaches Sasa Kostic said the camp was beneficial for the growth of the game in the Upper Peninsula.

“It’s really a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s a part of our daily job to create long-term development for the players and also to change the culture about soccer in the U.P. and especially in Marquette.”

Kostic has had a close connection to Andonovski for several years, which is why he extended an invite to the Seattle coach as well as two professional players.

“Having that squad of people on the field is a really unique opportunity,” he said. “It’s not just about what they can show on the field, but the important thing is that all of the players can talk to them and and ask them, ‘What does it take to reach that level?’

“It’s great from all aspects, not just from the game. Another aspect is that the players need to understand what’s really going to push them to that level in the future. It’s a long way to go and having professionals in Marquette and a high-caliber coach is a great opportunity.”

This is the third year for the event, but the first under the bright stadium lights and ambiance of the Superior Dome.

Andonovski has cut down on his soccer camps recently due to the busy life of being a head coach, but he’s always happy to help when Kostic extends his invitation.

“I used to do this a lot but haven’t done much in the last five or six years,” he said. “When I get an invitation from Sasa to help him out or come and promote the game in Marquette, I always do it.

“First, Sasa is a great friend of mine, but secondly, it’s a great community and a great opportunity for me to share some of my knowledge and hopefully help players develop as individuals or pursue excellence of the game.”

Johnson, a forward for the Reign, appeared in three matches for Seattle in 2018 and plays alongside U.S. Women’s National Team start Megan Rapinoe.

Johnson said she does too many camps to count, but makes sure she and the young players have fun with it, all while balancing a professional career with the Reign.

“It’s a good balance,” she said. “We make sure we have our priorities straight with the soccer aspect for me professionally, but it’s also fun to give back to the kids and be in the communities and meeting the people who support us and the team.

“I definitely think the kids have enjoyed it. They’ve all been positive every day with everything we’re doing. They always have a good attitude and good spirits about it and they seem really excited. It’s been fun to see them grow throughout the last couple of days and see them evolve their skills and the mindset with the game of soccer.”

Johnson added that it was her first time in Marquette and the U.P., and she’s embraced the experience as well.

“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “Everyone here has been so sweet, nice and welcoming to us and hopefully we get to come back.”

Like Johnson said, the kids have embraced it. Just ask Marquette Senior High School girls varsity soccer and MUSC player Emilee Gooch.

“I loved it,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to work with such high-level coaching. I definitely learned more about spacial movement on the field and a lot of new footwork techniques. Hopefully come high school season this training will pay off.”

Kostic called the camp an overall success, and hopes to keep bringing professionals to Marquette to assist. He also hopes this can drive players to a higher level after their youth.

“I’m really happy that everybody together is working really hard to change the general picture about soccer and maybe even give the chance to many players in the future to play at a higher level, starting with the (NCAA) Division I or Division II level,” he said. “We already have two soccer teams in town (Northern Michigan University men and women) and a lot of things can happen.”

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.