Garrison, NATO team up for friendly game vs. Romanian soccer legend-led crew

Both teams gathered for a photo and handshakes.

OVIDIU, Romania — Two U.S. Soldiers joined military service members from Romania and the United Kingdom in a friendly soccer match against former Romanian professional players and coaches May 18 at Gheorghe Hagi Football Academy.

Oana Copaceanu, the garrison’s host-nation advisor for Army Support Activity-Black Sea at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, noticed the success — and morale boost — the garrison’s April’s MWR match was and decided to take it to the big leagues.

“Sport is what brings everybody together,” said Copaceanu. “Soccer especially in Europe.”

Two Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment represented the United States.

Copaceanu, with the help of U.K.’s Royal Air Force, engaged with the local soccer academy, located about nine miles north of Constanta. The academy is owned and operated by Romanian soccer legend Gheorghe Hagi, who helped secure the venue and alumni players to compete against the NATO team.

While the event was closed to the public, about 15 members of the Romanian press covered the event, including one station providing live television coverage of the match.

A U.S. Soldier tags into the game.

“Events like these show how interested, and curious the local community is on what the garrison, Americans and NATO soldiers are doing on MK,” said Copaceanu.

While Copaceanu exercised her host-nation skills to secure the event, members of the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force exercised the players on the field.

According to one of the RAF members, the makeshift team only had a few practice sessions together as a team. Given duty schedules and mission, not everyone was able to come together at the same time, he said. Getting them on a field off base for the match was the first time the teammates worked together as a team.

“But that’s the spirit of NATO, isn’t it?” he said.

Team captain Royal Air Force Sgt. Simon Stone, a physical training instructor, agreed.

“It’s great to mix with the other nations on the base and to play against a professional team is really exciting for us,” said Simon during an interview with reporters. “To really bring all the nations together and to emphasize the fact that we are together as NATO… It’s a really good idea to get together and play some football.”

Final score? Tie 3-3.