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Eleri ready to tackle US; Double-winning footballer Eleri Earnshaw is heading to the States to boost her hopes of a professional career, as she tells.

Byline: Gareth Bicknell

AYOUNG star of one of the country's top football clubs has won a top soccer scholarship to the USA.

Eleri Earnshaw, 19, from Rhyl, who helped Arsenal to a league and cup double last season, is set to continue her sporting career Stateside in one of the world's best youth development systems. The Wales international midfielder and former Ysgol Glan Clwyd pupil could be on the way to a professional career in the sport after netting the chance to play for Ion a College of New York.

She flies to the Big Apple today to begin pre-season training with the Ion a squad.

The move comes a year after she graduated from Arsenal's National Academy for girls, going on to break into the Gunners' first team.

At the age of 18, while many of her friends were taking up studies in higher education, Eleri decided to concentrate on her football for a year -- a decision that paid off as she played a central role in Arsenal's double triumph last season.

She has also made the Wales senior team after captaining the international under 19s side, and hopes to be involved in helping the team qualify for the World Cup in China in 2007.

Eleri is now in with a chance of playing in the national championship in the USA, where the female game is light years ahead of the sport in this country. She will play for Ion a in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, covering four states with 12 teams.

The top four teams in the conference then play off for a place in the national championships, run by the National Conference Athletic Association.

``It will be tough, '' she says. ``I'll be playing two games a week on Friday and Sunday until Christmas, when the best four teams will go through to the championship weekend. ''

``I'm joining a developing team -- Emma's brought about eight players into it, so hopefully we've got a good chance of getting through to the national competition. ''

Eleri was spotted playing for the Gunners when her new coach, a former Arsenal player herself, came to watch her old club. After impressing at centre midfield she was offered the scholarship, and will have the costs of her studies covered by the college.

She enjoyed the time she spent at Arsenal, where she occasionally got to rub shoulders with the likes of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.

``At the end of last season we got to go on their victory tour bus with the men after they won the league. It's amazing the amount of respect you get from the male players.

``I'd definitely like to play for them again one day. ''

CAPTION(S):

Eleri Earnshaw, holding the FA Women's Cup she won with Arsenal last year, is to play with US team Ion a College of New York in the coming season
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 3, 2004
Words:479
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