Club Player Called To Senior National Team

February 20, 2017, By Mike McGinley  (click here for PDF version of article)

It is easy to see why December 2016 will be a simply unforgettable month for San Ramon FC’s Mika Sayfurahman. At 13 years of age, Mika traveled 7,560 miles from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area to Siliguri, India.

She was not there for a family vacation, but to join the Afghanistan Women’s National Team.

Mika’s Opportunity Knocks Half-A-World Away

It’s a special opportunity to train with a women’s national team halfway around the world.

Special, but not relaxing.

When asked how she felt while training with the team, Mika said, “I felt like it was really difficult, because I'm the youngest on the team.”  Previously she had trained with the Afghan U19 team, but this was her first experience with the senior team. Mika was first noticed at a tournament by the Afghan team’s assistant coach.

For 14 days in December, the young teenager participated in 2 hour training sessions, twice per day, with the women on the senior team. The team prepared to compete in the South Asian Football Federation’s (SAFF) 2016 Championship. The SAFF 2016 Championship is a biennial tournament that features national teams from the South Asian region, such as India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.

According to Mika, her training with San Ramon FC and Coach Zlatko Tomic helped her a lot.

She said there were both similarities and differences in the training styles of her youth club and the Afghan national team. It was different because the Afghan team did a lot more running. They played position games in training, which reminded her of team practices back in San Ramon.

“This is the first time we have ever had a senior national team player currently playing for the club,” Coach Tomic said. “Everyone in San Ramon FC is proud of her and we will keep supporting her development in every way possible.”

Mika developed a new appreciation for the quality of fields available to youth players in California. She saw firsthand that grass and turf fields are a luxury, not a necessity, which kids in the United States often take for granted. “Some people in India don't even play on a field; they play on dirt,” Mika said.

“This little speck of optimism in a really chaotic world.” – Haley Carter, Afghan Goalkeeper Coach

Coach Carter’s words describe the Afghan team and their remarkable story fueled by determination, resilience and courage.

Formed in 2007, the players who joined the team were frequently told that football is not for girls, especially Afghan girls. Players and their families faced cultural and political pressure, harassment, and, early on, even death threats.

Organizing team training camps has been a persistent challenge, due to logistical and financial difficulties. After 9 years, the team’s first ever formal training camp occurred in the Bay Area in September 2016.

According to the article Afghan Women’s Soccer Team Trains in Bay Area, written by Tatiana Sanchez for the Bay Area News Group:

“The team of 30 women is international in every sense of the word and each player has a unique experience. While some players still reside in Afghanistan, others live in Europe or other countries as refugees after having to flee their home country. Some live in the U.S.”

The same article explained that the team continues to garner support on social media from notable soccer athletes like Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy. Basketball great, and soccer fan, Kobe Bryant, also donated $1,000 to the team’s GoFundMe page.

A Positive Playing Experience

While the team lost both of their matches in the December SAFF 2016 Championship, Mika had nothing but positives about her time with the national team.

Her favorite parts of the experience were being immersed in a national team training environment and playing games in a large stadium.

For a 13 year old competing against elite women athletes, Mika’s opinion of her team’s performance sounded more like a veteran player than a teenager. ”One thing that surprised me was how much we improved from all the other years,” she said. “I would always watch them on TV. “

We can only imagine that another young girl in the world watched Mika play on TV last December and said to herself, “I’m going to do that too.”

For Mika, as well as the Afghan Women’s National Team, the future seems full of promise.

You can follow the Afghan Women’s National team on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

If you would like to help the team with a donation, you can donate on their GoFundMe page

The non-profit organization Soccer Without Borders has also stepped up as a fiscal sponsor for Afghan women’s national team. You can learn more about this partnership on the SWB website.