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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Youth Soccer League Scores Big

What can unite 500 children of 15 different nationalities? Soccer.

As Moscow enjoys its last few warm days, the American Youth Soccer Organization league games, now in their fifth season, are getting closer to their finals on Oct. 23.

Founded in 1995 by Joni Wirthlin, a mother of six from Los Angeles, to provide a soccer-playing outlet for children, the Moscow branch of the organization now consists of six divisions and 36 teams. The season traditionally runs from late August through late October.

Interest in the league was strong from the start. "There were enough children who wanted this league to happen, enough desire from the children in the international community," said Martin Wiewiorowski, 41, vice president of the consulting firm DeGolyer and MacNaughton, who volunteers as the league's chief referee and one of the four board members. "There was enough need and enough voices from the parents, that somebody eventually stepped up and said, 'We need to do it.'"

The league's success is obvious. Nearly 500 children from the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, Russia and other countries playing. "There are kids from every continent," said Wiewiorowski, a native of Dallas. "I think that only Antarctica doesn't have anybody."

Of the six divisions, four - made up of 24 teams with players ranging from 8 to 17 years old - are competitive, playing with hopes of advancing to the finals. While the older kids play to win the medals, the younger kids, aged 5 to 7, play simply for fun and are rewarded with bananas and other snacks.

"With younger kids, the parents sometimes get into it more than the kids do," said Nanette Howard, a 40-year-old mother of three, as she watched her 12-year-old daughter, Carlie, play for the Bloodhounds team.

The parents comprise the league's volunteer staff. There are 36 coaches and an equal number of assistant coaches and "team mothers" charged with organizing post-game snacks and administrative duties. Paul Stanton, a 38-year-old father of three, has spent the past three seasons coaching the team that one of his daughters, 8-year-old Harriet, plays for.

"I got into it because as a father I couldn't stand on the sideline and watch somebody else trying to teachmy daughter how to play football," said Stanton, who hails from England. "I do it because I enjoy it: I love working with the kids. This gives me the opportunity to try to mold and shape and help people to play the game better."

And the results are there. Stanton was pleased with Harriet's progress. "To watch her being able to dribble past two or three boys and to shoot her full-sized goal is a wonderful experience," he said.

While parents enjoy coaching, kids simply enjoy the game. Ten-year-old Sasha Styukhin has been playing as a midfielder for The Moscow Times team for the second year in a row. "Our team has been winning, and now we are in second place," he said after the game Saturday before going to help as a linesman in another game.

Christiana Marsden, 11, a midfielder for United Flames who said she "accidentally" scored in one of the latest games, thought the league needed some improvement. "I think we need to work harder on getting evener teams. Some people always lose, and some people always win," she said.

John Fortune, a 15-year-old player on the Red Alert team's defense was taking a break after his match, talking to his friend Jonathan Park, also 15, who comes to watch and support his peers. "We're here because it's fun and there's nothing else to do on Saturdays." they said.

What are they going to do in two weeks, when the soccer season is over? "Basketball," the boys said in unison.