When Brian and Danielle Rodgers encouraged their daughter Taylor to try out for the Montana ODP Program (MDP), they had no idea where Taylor’s soccer journey could take her. They certainly did not expect it to take her to Italy. But after making the 2008 MDP Girls Roster and starting for the team at several tournaments throughout the country, Taylor was invited to participate in Montana Youth Soccer’s Montana + Italy Soccer Exchange this past March.
The trip featured nine days of soccer content, including practice sessions with some of the highest-level academy programs in Italy. Taylor and her team trained with coaches from AC Milan, Coverciano, and AC ChievoVerona's respective academy programs. The team also traveled to the Italian National Team Training grounds and trained with coaches from the U-17 and U-19 Italian National Teams. For the Rodgers family, the trip was eye-opening and allowed them to see how much of an impact soccer could have on Taylor’s life.
“We never grew up being around soccer much, but since Taylor started playing about five years ago, we have grown to truly enjoy the game of soccer,” said Danielle Rodgers. “After going to Italy and experiencing the different cultures and seeing firsthand a professional game, it has opened our eyes to the true potential of soccer. We are now even more committed to Taylor’s soccer goals and are willing to do whatever it takes to make them happen.”
For Taylor herself, training with the Italian coaching staff offered her a different perspective on approaching the game. The coaches specifically focused on the mental side of the game and how to correctly identify what decisions to make in various game situations.
“With the Montana coaches, we worked on team building and possession type drills,” said Taylor. “With the Italian coaches, we mostly worked on metal and self-training tactics, but we still had some team possession drills. The Italian coaches worked more on mental and focused type decision making.”
In addition to the professional training sessions, the MDP teams were given the opportunity to play against three Italian academy programs. To fully immerse themselves into the soccer culture of Italy, MDP players, parents, and staff coaches also visited Museo Azzurri, the Italian Football Museum. They were able to see a complete history of the Italian Football Association.
On one of the trip's final days, program members were treated to a Serie A match between Inter Milan and Fiorentina at San Siro Stadium. Taylor’s father, Brian Rodgers, couldn’t help but notice how the trip further invigorated her love for the game.
“Taylor has always been driven to succeed in any area of her life. The same has been with her in soccer,” said Brian Rodgers. “But after spending a week in Italy training with professionals, playing local games, and watching a professional game, we have noticed even more of a commitment on her part, and she now has even bigger goals.”
Growing up in Montana and the United States, soccer can frequently be viewed as a peripheral sport by peers. Seeing the Italian’s insatiable love for the game is something that Taylor will take with her forever.
“I learned so much more from this trip. It truly made me have a much bigger love for soccer,” said Taylor. “Going to soccer museums helped me learn a lot more about their soccer culture and how much they love soccer compared to other countries. I always had goals for my soccer future, but having this experience increased my drive to further my dreams and goals.”
Taylor and her family were accompanied on the trip by Montana ODP staff coaches, including our own Damion Blackburn. While Damion lauded the on-the-field setup that the players had at their disposal in Italy, he emphasized the cultural impact that the trip had on players like Taylor.
“First, it’s just the cultural difference,” said Blackburn. “Many of the players on that trip had never left the country, so seeing different cultures and engaging with different people and players off the field is just as much of a value as what they could do on the field, which was substantial as well.”
Recognizing the value that these international trips can have on young players, Blackburn is hoping to work to further international opportunities for players in the local club environment. This means that there will be many exciting possibilities for players from the Flathead in the future.
“From a club point of view, we want to make sure that we provide these opportunities to our teams and our individual players,” said Blackburn. “The ODP program for Montana will continue to look to go to Europe. We, as a club, are going to utilize some of our relationships in other parts of the world, such as Costa Rica. I’ve taken teams down to Argentina in previous club environments and plan to utilize contacts there and in other parts of South America.”
While the game continues to grow throughout the United States, visiting other countries, embracing different cultures, and playing with professional academy coaches can provide players with invaluable insight and experiences. We, as a club, are hoping that many other players will get to experience comparable life-changing journeys like the one that Taylor had this past March.