A decade or so ago Jim Elliston made a pact with his young daughter – if he she made a World Cup he would be there in person to cheer her on. It sounds like the kind of discussion which may have taken place in thousands of backyards. The difference here is that this dream became reality.
Jim Elliston and his wife Patricia made an arduous 41-hour journey from their home in Omaha, Nebraska to see his daughter Maddie – a regular in the USA backline – turn out for the Stars and Stripes in Papua New Guinea. Jim is one of a dozen or so sets of parents supporting USA at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.
“I was pretty emotional after the game seeing them,” a beaming Maddie Elliston told FIFA.com, just moments after catching-up with her parents for the first time since they arrived in Papua New Guinea. “It is always special to play in front of your best and No1 fans.”
It wasn’t a bad match for USA and their hardy band of supporters, who were supplemented by some groups of locals who took it upon themselves to support the Stars and Stripes. USA survived a torrid test from CONCACAF rivals Mexico, before an injury-time winner from substitute Kelcie Hedge secured a memorable 2-1 win.
“They were always saying if I made a World Cup they would be there, and here they are. It is so awesome to play in front of them and all the fans, and with that big win it was totally awesome.
“I’m super excited to catch up with my parents who have come all the way for this. They have actually never seen me play a national team game so it was very cool that could come.”
The Ellistons may hail from one of the United States' lesser known football regions, but ambitions are still sky high. “Maddie has always had pretty big goals, and my wife and I couldn’t miss this,” continued Jim. “Maddie wants to play at the very top, and in the Olympics. Of course as you reach closer to the top, that funnel gets narrower. But already Mallory Pugh has achieved that so you just never know.”
Another enjoying the spectacle was Mark Riehl, father of defender Kaleigh, whose equally proud uncle Kurt also made the long journey to Melanesia from their home in Fairfax, Virginia. “You always hope something like this would happen,” he said.
“Kaleigh always played with heart and determination. It was kind of unspoken that this is where she wanted to be. You always dream that something good like could happen, but you just never know.”
The next step on the journey is a semi-final meeting with Korea DPR. What chance that would be followed a fourth world title for USA? It would certainly ensure that an already wonderful story comes full circle for the Ellistons and all their travelling companions.