As part of the recent Target USA Cup, Minnesota United hosted the girls U15 team from LEAD Monrovia Football Academy for a week of competition and cultural immersion here in the Twin Cities. Led by the ownership group, including Dr. Bill McGuire, Margot and Paul Grangaard, Wendy Nelson and Erika Binger, MNUFC brought the team over from Liberia and set up a wealth of experiences for them during their time here. The girls had the chance to watch a Minnesota United training session, spend time with first team players, take in the team’s international friendly against EPL team Aston Villa, connect with the Liberian community in the Twin Cities and go on a shopping spree at Target.
The best part of the trip, though? The team stormed the Target USA Cup, winning the championship in dramatic fashion against Michigan’s Vardar United. After regulation ended with the teams deadlocked at 2-2, the team from Monrovia sealed the win in a penalty shootout and hoisted the cup.
“The Government and People of Liberia are very proud of this achievement and truly grateful for the level of pride it has brought to our Nation,” wrote Liberian president and former international soccer star George Weah on his Facebook page. “This feat signifies the rich talents our youths possess, and their ability to harness those talents when given the opportunity. It also serves as an embodiment of resilience, hard-work and discipline.”
It was clear that the trip was not only a tremendous opportunity for the girls themselves, but a community-building project that will have a lasting impact on everyone who was involved with the effort to bring them here.
Darwin + LEAD Monrovia Football Academy + Dancing = feel-good content you didn't know you needed... pic.twitter.com/7RLIJ8CLMv— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 16, 2019
“It is a reality that each individual will experience pivotal moments along their life journey that bring more possibility within reach,” said Wendy Nelson. “I have witnessed so many young people’s lives changed when a person or experience enabled them to expand their vision of what’s possible for them. For the young girls of the Monrovia academy, we did just that! I will forever remember greeting their wide eyes when they arrived at Allianz Field and the tear of gratitude in my heart — gratitude that a single moment could be so powerful.”
“It's inspiring to see their leadership strengthened even more as they use this experience to lead and guide their peers as well as fellow Liberians,” said Erika Binger. “The President of Liberia posted about these young ladies and how impactful their journey was and how he hopes to invest more in youth. I hope this is the beginning of a great partnership and opportunity for MNUFC to make a difference in our community locally, nationally and internationally. Soccer truly is a global sport and the more we see each other as fellow citizens with shared connectedness the better for all of us.”
Founded in 2015, the LEAD Monrovia Football Academy provides academic classes and soccer training to Liberia’s youth with a goal of improving academic performance, breaking down gender barriers and preparing students to lead positive change in the country.
“What a trip!” said LEAD’s Executive Director, Will Smith. “We are eternally grateful to MNUFC, the USA Cup and Minnesota's Liberian community for giving LEAD Monrovia Football Academy's young ladies such a tremendous and unforgettable experience. We are proud of our ladies' historic achievement on the pitch, and we are thrilled that they were able to engage in so many cultural activities and leadership lessons throughout the week. There is a collective belief that this trip will be a turning point — both for our student-athletes and LEAD Monrovia Football Academy as a whole. We hope to be back next year!"