Whitman soccer team heading to UK

English-born coach Mike Washington is taking the team before the season starts.

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WALLA WALLA - Whitman soccer is heading across the pond.

And the continent.

Mike Washington, the head coach of the Whitman men's soccer team, is hosting 14 of his players on a trip to his native England for a few weeks of training and international play.

This is the third time since 2002 that Washington has shepherded his Whitman squad to his soccer-crazy homeland. He's been the head coach there for 13 seasons.

Working through old friends, Washington has a handful of games slated against teams of college-age players representing various football clubs. English clubs typically sponsor a number of teams ranging from youth through the professional ranks.

"We'll face teams with players who are about the same age as our Whitman boys," Washington said.

In keeping with English tradition, games will be followed by an exchange of team banners and a post-game meal in the host clubhouse, he said. "It's an atmosphere that's quite fun for all."

Although the players pay their own trip expenses, Washington takes on the organizational size of of the 4,700-mile (one way) trip, crossing seven time zones.

There are many benefits to the trip, he said. It gives his returning players a jump on fall season preparations and the players can soak up some British history and culture - and Washington hopes they pay particular attention to the more nuanced English feel for the game of soccer.

"We're just as strong and just as fast as the teams we'll play," he said. "What tends to happen, though, is that we get humbled a bit by their ability to read the game as it happens. The boys in England have grown up with soccer as their national sport, which gives them a big advantage."

Four years ago, Whitman's side held its own on British soil, winning twice, losing twice and drawing once.

Games start this time around with the Paulton City Rovers, a club that dates to 1881. Games follow against the Bath City, Forest Green, and Weston-Super-Mare clubs, each of which started in the late 1880s.Washington also hopes to play Caldicot Town FC in south Wales.

That would give the group a chance to visit Caldicot Castle, a sprawling structure founded by the Normans and developed by English royalty during the Middle Ages. Restored to much of its early glory, the medieval fortress sits in a 55-acre park and is reputed to be haunted by spirits ranging from a grey lady and hooded monks to a beggar boy and a mischievous poltergeist.

As it has with past trips, Whitman will cap its excursion with a visit to the storied Manchester United Football Club. Manchester and its 76,000-seat stadium, Old Trafford, are the English sporting equivalents of America's New York Yankees and Yankee Stadium.

Washington grew up in southwest England.

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