DUBLIN -- Sometimes, a youth soccer tournament is a horde of kids kicking and heading a ball down a grassy field. Sometimes, it's the start of a revolution.

At September's 2012 South Asian Football Federation Women's Cup in Sri Lanka, it was both.

Six American girls, all Bay Area athletes with deep Afghan roots, were invited to join two German players and 12 young women on the Afghanistan national team to compete for the second time (the first was in 2010) in the international tournament.

The captain of the team was Hailai Arghandiwal -- a 16-year-old center midfielder who plays on a number of local teams but primarily for Pleasanton Rage and the varsity squad at Dublin High School, where she attends -- was selected to join the Afghanistan national team.

"We got off the plane after 21 hours, including a six-hour layover in Dubai, dumped our bags, changed our clothes and went to the field," she said, in an interview a few days after her return. "We had an hour-and-a-half practice, then the next day we had a game."

The first game lacked "that click" and the chemistry between players "was just foreign," Arghandiwal recalled.

Picking up from the loss, the Afghans' less-aggressive playing style meshed with the Americans' stronger physicality and the team eventually made it to the semifinals, where a crushing loss to Pakistan (4-0) ended the tournament.

But it didn't end Arghandiwal's purpose, which she says is far greater than keeping a ball at her feet and finding the play opportunities in diagonal gaps created by her teammates.

"I'd like to travel the world and help countries that are trying to build their sports. This would be a thrilling part: to help women in Afghanistan think there is a life where you can be who you want to be," she said.

Arghandiwal, whose wide-open eyes burn with intensity and compassion, struggles to explain what she saw in the lives of her Afghan teammates. In the end, blunt honesty and an American upbringing prevail.

"Afghan girls are very sweet. They are accepting and grateful, but their home lives are difficult, so they are uneasy," she begins, pondering each word before tossing caution aside and adding, "these aren't girls running around in burqas, you know. They get more than teased -- they get harassed. Sure, we told them it doesn't have to be this way."

The Afghan players are professional athletes, not high school students. They are paid, but not as much as their male counterparts and Arghandiwal says corruption means most of the money falls into the hands of organizers, not players.

"We gave them each $60 -- right to them, so we knew it would stay with them," she said.

Because their training is done primarily in a gymnasium and the few opportunities they have to play on a field are cut short (when the women are sent scrambling for cover as the men's teams arrive), their strength is limited. Questioned by their families, goaded by onlookers and, in Sri Lanka, condemned by the Afghan Federation for playing without headscarves or stockings to cover their bare legs, the Americans consider the environment offensive.

"The men have the upper hand, they are the alpha males. When they see women are gaining forward movement, they try to bully the woman down. What does it say about a country, if bare knees are considered dangerous?" she asked.

Turning her focus homeward, Arghandiwal is grateful.

"I have openness. I can go out for a run. There, it is not safe to be a woman alone. I'm able to express myself through soccer. I have a nice field, new cleats: I can travel the world as an athlete," she said.

Freedom does not mean escape from prejudice, especially after the September tragedies in 2001 and 2012.

"I see people automatically assume things here. They assume I'm confined to my home because that's what expected of a woman in Afghanistan. They aren't educated. When people make small comments, rude comments, as if (those of one religion) are inferior to another religion, I am continuously shocked," she said.

Describing terrorists as "extremists who take things to a false place," Arghandiwal said she believes Americans need to notice examples of people who proudly represent the good of Afghanistan in a peaceful way.

She plans to continue her American dream: college, a career combining sports medicine and journalism and a life of workarounds and passing connections as a global playmaker.

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