By Zach Sparks
Four Severna Park youth soccer players traveled more than 3,000 miles to Scotland in late April to compete against some of the country’s talented athletes.
Jordan Lovejoy, Declan Karney, Nicky Melfi and Brayden Wedlake were all selected to the 2006 Boys Olympic Development Program team after excelling during a series of practices.
The U.S. Youth Soccer ODP identifies and develops youth players to represent their state and regional associations. Maryland ODP teams are composed of the state’s best players in various age groups.
All four boys are seventh-graders at Severna Park Middle School. Lovejoy, Karney and Melfi play for Baltimore Celtic South whereas Wedlake dons a jersey for Green Hornets.
During their trip overseas, the boys stayed in Glasgow but also visited Edinburgh, Renfrew and Stirling, playing four soccer matches and touring during their free time. The chance to compete against the Scottish players was invaluable.
“It was a good experience,” said Karney, a center back. “It’s a lot more aggressive in Scotland. Over here, we have three referees, but they have one.”
The physicality of play was noted by each of the boys.
“They’ll push and shove with their shoulders,” said Wedlake, a midfielder who didn’t shy away from the rough style. “It was like a whole other level of play.”
The 2006 Boys split the matches with their various Scottish opponents, going 2-2.
Between games, the Severna Park boys enjoyed the sights as they traveled by chartered motor coach. They saw the rolling countryside of Loch Lomond, and the castles and cobbled alleys of Edinburgh.
Karney singled out the National Wallace Monument — named after national hero Sir William Wallace — as his favorite.
“It has a really nice view,” Karney said. “You can see villages nestled in the mountains and you can see Sterling Castle.”
They watched the Rangers overcome the Heart of Midlothian in a Scottish Professional Football League matchup on April 20.
Melfi enjoyed visiting Celtic Football Club stadium in Glasgow. “We got to walk field-side and it was cool to see the whole stadium,” he said.
Players on the opposing Spartans team shared treats and hospitality while giving the Severna Park boys a glimpse of their culture.
“They say things differently,” Melfi said. “They’d call fries ‘chips,’ and they had different names for their food brands.”
They also take their sports seriously, said Jennifer Lovejoy, Jordan’s mom. “If we went out to a restaurant or something, they didn’t want us wearing apparel of a local Scottish team or any team,” she said.
If the boys make the ODP team next year, they will travel abroad to another country.
The experience was especially rewarding because all four athletes aspire to play college soccer.
“It exposed me to a different level of play than I’m used to and that should help me raise my game,” Karney said.
Jordan Lovejoy said, “I’ve never played soccer internationally; it was a whole different experience of what you do there, and it provided a chance to show what I can do in the future and how I can play internationally.”