By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
They have already enjoyed their share of success on the soccer pitch, but Palisadians Adelle Levi and Hailey Hubbard experienced the thrill of a lifetime in July when they traveled to Gothenburg, Sweden with their Westside Breakers U12 international squad to participate in the annual Gothia Cup, considered the World Cup of youth soccer.
Both girls can remember first kicking a ball around the age of 3 and starting in AYSO Region 69 when they were 6. Since then, they have blossomed into skilled players known for their tenacity, competitiveness and will to win.
The Breakers were one of 37 teams from 11 countries in the 12-and-under girls division, which was comprised of nine groups. They were placed in Group 9 and in their first game July 18, the Breakers tied Asa IF of Sweden 1-1. The next day they posted a 6-2 victory over another Swedish club, Utbynas SK. On July 20, the Breakers clinched first place in group play and earned a berth in the “A” (championship) playoffs by virtue of a 2-2 draw against Vasteras IK.
After receiving a bye in the first round of the knockout phase, the Breakers fell to eventual runner-up KFV Segeberg of Germany 5-2 in the quarterfinals July 21.
“Our club is planning on going back and bringing more teams,” said Levi, who turns 12 on November 9 and is about to begin sixth grade at Corpus Christi School. “I definitely want to!”
“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done,” added Hubbard, who celebrated her 12th birthday Tuesday and is going into seventh grade at Archer School for Girls in Brentwood.
Rounding out the Breakers’ U12 roster were sisters Ava and Kayla Wiedner of West LA (who attend Emerson Middle School); Dani Lynch of Beverly Hills (Curtis School); Chloe Altman and Natalia McKnight of Brentwood (also Curtis School); Rose Chuck of Culver City (Culver City Middle School); Makende Stewart of Harvard Heights (St. Brendan School); and Maddie Kelly from West LA (Paul Revere Middle School).
A versatile athlete, Levi has been with the Breakers for three seasons. Primarily a left forward, she scored a goal in the win versus Utbynas, although she played center forward and even spent time on defense in Sweden.
“Adelle is super aggressive,” Hubbard said about her friend and teammate, whom she has known since preschool at the Methodist Church. “The second she loses the ball, she’s back at it, she wants it and she usually gets it.”
Levi also plays forward in basketball (having won multiple titles in the Palisades Recreation Center league) and she is a safety on defense in the Palisades-YMCA flag football league. She also runs cross country at Corpus.
“My dad played soccer when I was little… it’s something I liked because I got to run around with my friends and be part of a team,” said Levi, who went to kindergarten at Palisades Elementary and lives near St. Matthew’s. “I’ve been to Mexico on vacation twice and to Peru on a medical mission with my dad, but never for a tournament like this. Sweden is nice and clean and the people are super friendly. Our host team let us use its training facility and even invited us to go swimming at one of the players’ houses.”
Although this was her first time playing with Hubbard at the club level, Levi recalls them being teammates way back in AYSO.
“Hailey has a big kick, she’s really fast, she makes great passes and is good at controlling the ball,” Levi said. “I like forward because I like to score goals and you get to be aggressive.”
Levi plans to stay with the Breakers for awhile and wants to continue playing soccer in high school, perhaps at Palisades or Harvard-Westlake. She likes going to Noah’s Bagels and Robeks in the morning and names Garden Cafe among her favorite local eateries, where she goes before or after a workout at the Rec Center with former pro Cat Vitanza, her private coach for the last four years. Her 9-year-old brother Braun plays for the Pali Waves tennis team and is entering fourth grade at Corpus while her parents Dan (a pediatric cardiologist at UCLA) and Jennifer (a fitness trainer) helped organize the first Pacific Palisades Turkey Trot three years ago.
“The referees didn’t call as many fouls in Sweden, the fields are smaller and the style of play is different, but things evened out and I think we were one of the better teams,” Levi said. “I met so many friends and we follow each other on Instagram. Before every game we lined up and traded things with the other team. At the end, we did a “crossbar challenge” where if you hit the crossbar you got to pick a prize. Well, I hit it so I chose a signed jersey from the Swedish team I scored on.”
Hubbard, who got a flag from the Breakers’ host team Naset SK, agreed that the game is different overseas.
“They played more of a ‘kick and run’ style,” Hubbard assessed. “It was seven on seven and there’s no offside rule, which we had to adjust to. ”
Hubbard plays midfield and likes being “where the action is,” transitioning from offense back to defense as needed.
“Most of us stayed in the same hotel and we had dinner with our host team,” said Hubbard, who went to Palisades Elementary and lives in the Via Bluffs. “I was there a little over 10 days. We got there a few days before the tournament and stayed in Stockholm. Afterwards, we went sightseeing in Copenhagen [Denmark] and Adelle went to Norway after that. Once the tournament started we really didn’t have much time because there were games every day and we had to take a train and then a bus just to get to them.”
Like her fellow Palisadian, Hubbard is quite the athlete, also playing volleyball at Archer, where she might try track or cross country as well. She ran the Palisades-Will Rogers 5K on July 4 and won her age group in 22:18.
“Adelle and I have always been on different teams with the Breakers—I was on white, she was on blue—so it was fun to actually play with her,” said Hubbard, who also takes lessons from Vitanza and also frequents Garden Cafe. “The opening ceremony was fun because all of the countries walked out with their banners and there were fireworks just like in the Olympics, but what I’ll remember most is in the last game against Germany when our goalie scored off a punt. She was shocked and we were all so happy for her!”
Following in Hailey’s footsteps are her younger sister Tess (a member of the Pali Extra U10 AYSO team) and her 7-year-old brother Jackson, who plays AYSO as well as basketball with local travel squad Pali Hoop Dreams.
Levi and Hubbard wanted to win not only for themselves and their team, but for Breakers head coach Chris Lofgren, who is originally from Malmo, Sweden. A few weeks before the Gothia Cup his father passed away unexpectedly and players wore black arm bands on their sleeves in his honor.
“Chris grew up in the area and played that tournament when he was younger,” Levi said. “He told us ‘Just go out there and have fun, work together and take a lot of shots.’”
“That was like extra motivation for us,” Hubbard added. “We were trying to win for his father.”
Lofgren believes coachability has played a major factor in the two Palisadians’ rapid development.
“Both of them are very coachable, they’re hungry, they have big hearts and they have a strong desire to improve,” said Lofgren, who played in the Gothia Cup twice growing up in Sweden and reached the finals in the U13 division. “Adelle is technically advanced for her age, she’s a good finisher, she likes to go one-on-one and she’s a natural scorer,” Lofgren said. “Hailey has great vision, she’s great with the ball in traffic and she really opens the game up well for other players.”
Both girls are following the Olympics closely because they hope to be representing the USA themselves someday. Levi, in fact, has met former Breakers star and fellow Palisadian Ali Riley, who currently plays for the New Zealand national team. Hubbard admires current Team USA striker Alex Morgan and now-retired Abby Wambach.
“I definitely want to keep playing through high school and I’d love to play in the Olympics,” Hubbard said. “So many of them played Gothia, so it’s great getting game experience in other countries.”
For now, Levi and Hubbard look forward to kicking back at sleep-away camp or Will Rogers State Beach and enjoying what’s left of the summer. They have certainly earned the rest.
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