Ocean County Soccer Players Star In World Tournament

Reese Keane and Jordan McCullough display their team's third-place award in Sweden. (Photo courtesy the Keane and McCullough families)

  BRICK – Brick Memorial High School girls soccer team members Reese Keane and Jordan McCullough spent part of this summer broadening their horizons.

  They competed in the 2023 Gothia Cup – the world’s largest youth soccer tournament – in Sweden. They played on Team Adiona.

   “I really did enjoy it,” said Keane, who will be a sophomore in September. “It was a different experience. It was something that a lot of players are not able to experience. The spirit was so prideful among all of the teams.”

  The team placed third among 75 teams and played some 10 matches in the under 16 age group. The team was eliminated 1-0 in the semifinals by Germany, which scored off a corner kick with about 10 minutes left in the match. Team Adonia also competed against teams from Sweden and England.

“Our team chanted a song called, I Believe that We Will Win,” Keane said. “Teams played the national anthems of their countries and chanted about the sport.”

Reese Keane gives chase in Sweden. (Photo courtesy the Keane family)

  Keane, who competed at outside right back, said the team encountered rugged play.

  “A lot of teams were a lot more physical than we were so we had to adjust to it,” she said. “We had to adjust to their physicality and the way they moved the ball. On the 50-50 balls, they went to the opposing player first, then went to the ball. We had to adjust to it and we were able to. Their forwards were very fast with their feet and their foot skills when they were on the ball.”

  Matches consisted of 30-minute halfs. Some needed extra action to settle the score.

  “The matches were rough on our bodies,” Keane said, “but we were able to recover by going into jacuzzis to give our bodies time to rest. Teams stayed in hotels.”  

  Keane said competing in the tournament was a learning experience.

  “Every forward will have a different style of play and I have to adjust to it,” she said. “I have to hold my mark better and perfect my defensive form so that I am able to stop the ball. I would give this experience a score of 10. It let me experience different teams and their styles of play.”

  Keane began playing soccer at the age of four on a Delaware recreation team.

  “I enjoyed it right away as I could run around and kick a ball for fun,” she said. “I love the sport. It is a good escape from everything and it helps me mentally and physically. When I play soccer, my mind is so into it and nothing interferes. I feel I am free when I am playing it. It helps keep my body in shape. The conditioning that the sport requires makes sure I won’t get hurt easily. The sport makes my bones and muscles stronger.  I have loved playing the sport since I was little.”

  The 5-foot-2 Keane is quick.

  “I do have speed,” the 115-pounder said. “I am very fast, I would say. I am good at communicating with my teammates on the field and good at picking up our players when they are down on the field either mentally or physically.  I am very open when I am on the field. I don’t disrespect one of our players if they make a mistake. I am very verbal when I am on the field. I am the same way when I am off the field, very open, very talkative. If anyone needs anything, I am always there for them.    

  Keane also plays on the Riptide’s PDA (Player Development Academy) Shore 2007 team. She earned a berth on Brick Memorial’s Distinguished Honor Roll after posting four A’s and one B.

  “I would like to play soccer in college anywhere in the country,” Keane said, “but I would like to play close to home so that my parents can watch me play.”

  McCullough, who played center back, said competing in the event was demanding.

  “It was hard as we played in so many games,” she said, “but it was really fun. We played as many as three games on one day. We learned a lot about physical recovery. The wife of one of our coaches, Melinda Nicoletti, is a physical therapist. She brought us bands to stretch our muscles with. We focused on hydration and on eating the right stuff. Her help improved our performance. We played in the same format last year and it was definitely a lot against tough competition.

  “It was real important to focus on the one game we played at the time. We had to keep winning to play that many games. We put all of our energy into the game we played at the time as we did not know if we will continue to the next game.”

  McCullough said competing in the event expanded her knowledge of the sport.

  “I learned a lot from watching the other nations play,” she said. “It was real cool to see different players and their styles of play. I am trying to use what I learned in the tournament for the high school level and for whatever else I have going on.”

  McCullough, who will be a junior in September, enjoyed the cultural aspects of the event.

  “It was cool to see how the different countries communicated with each other,” McCullough said. “It was cool to see how the girls from the different countries dressed.”

  As the team advanced, so did the level of intensity in each match.

  “The semifinal match was the most fun,” McCullough said. “The most intense games are the most fun.”

  McCullough brings several skills to the field.

  “I am very calm on the ball,” she said. “I am a good decision maker. I am good at serving balls from the back. I am a leader on the field. I direct my teammates. That’s something I have improved on. I am a physical player. I am trying to talk more. If you play in the back, you always have to communicate. I am good on free kicks. I had played in the middle. I am a playmaker.

Brick Memorial High School’s Jordan McCullough advances the ball in Sweden. (Photo courtesy the McCullough family)

  “I am close with all of the girls on my team on and off the field. I don’t take anything personally when I am on the field. Off the field, I get along with everyone. I like to joke around … whatever.”

  McCullough, a 5-foot-8, 135-pounder, and Keane also compete for the Brick Superstorm, ranked seventh in New Jersey in the under16 age group, of the Brick Township Soccer Association.

  McCullough and Keane met Team Adiona coaches Linzi McCormick and Ashley Denti in 2020 when they played under their direction on the New Jersey Olympic Development Program team. Last winter, McCormick and Denti selected 18 girls from around the state to compete in the Cup. Team Adonia placed third out of 118 teams last summer.  

   A member of the Honor Roll since her freshman year, McCullough hopes to compete at the collegiate level.

  “Definitely more south,” she said. “Either the Carolinas or Florida. I am definitely interested in going where it is a little warmer.”

  “Culturally,” Brick Memorial coach Bill Caruso said, “words cannot begin to describe the experience of playing in an event like the Gothia Cup. The entire city is taken over by youth soccer players and they get to interact with people from all over the world. There were matches where our girls dominated. There were matches where they were very challenged.

  “The European style of play was more physical than what you typically see here, but Reese and Jordan were quick to adapt. Reese and Jordan have played together on various teams for more than five years so they have great communication on the field. Over the last two seasons, not one goal was scored on either Reese or Jordan.”

  Keane and McCullough will start on the back line for Brick Memorial at outside back and center back, respectively, in 2023. McCullough returns at her position. Keane will be a first-year starter.

  “Jordan will be one of our most important players in the back,” Caruso said. “As a center back, she is the organizer of our defense. We will look for Reese to not only defend but to go forward and become involved in the attack. Both girls are extremely tough, physical players who never back down. Reese could be the fastest player on our team. On the field, both players are extremely tenacious, physical, hard working players. Off the field, they are easy going girls who get along with everyone. Both have a love for the game and will give you everything they have on the field.”

  Brick Memorial was 11-4-2 overall last season and tied for first place in Shore Conference Class A South with Toms River North and Toms River South. The Mustangs lost 3-2 with two minutes left in the second overtime to Middletown South in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship match.  

 Keane and McCullough enjoy playing for Caruso, the Mustangs’ 30th-year coach.

  “I love playing for him,” Keane said. “He is very supportive and I love playing for the school. He always picks up the girls when they are mentally down. He makes sure that we are all included. He is very supportive on and off the field.”    

  “I like him as a coach,” said McCullough, taught by Caruso as a seventh-grader at the Veterans Memorial Middle School. “He is hard on us, but it’s to benefit us. He always pushes us to do our best. He works us real hard during the preseason when we do a lot of work to get fit. When we play our games, we feel we are at the fitness level we need to be. He has us do character builders, a series of sprints that we do in 40 seconds. If you complete them on time, you are fine. If someone else does not make it on time, you don’t have to do them.”