Sporting Lee’s Summit players experience European soccer

Sporting Lee's Summit in Madrid

JANUARY 2016 – Among the important keys in developing young professional athletes is an opportunity to see how the world’s best and brightest play their craft, which also holds true of young soccer prodigies. A handful of Sporting Lee’s Summit players had a unique opportunity to witness world-class soccer up close and personal when they traveled to Madrid, Spain, visiting storied Real Madrid Academy, one of the world’s oldest and most acclaimed clubs.

The trip is part of SLS’ push to increase international exposure for our players. This initiative began in 2012 with the emergence of both British and Brazilian youth soccer camps hosted at Legacy Park.

“Our club has been looking at doing some additional summer camps and Real Madrid seemed like a perfect fit,” said Sporting LS president Ron Cox. “The latest proposal will allow SLS and Real Madrid to actually bring over some coaches and players from their established academy. Their professional staff will come over and teach/coach the game. It’s designed to bring a different style of play.”

It’s an especially nice treat for Sporting Lee’s Summit players as many of them follow European stars.

“Our kids idolize the European players, on FIFA, in the English Premier League and leagues around the world,” Cox said. “They watch the World Cup and get familiar with the best players from around the world. Now they have a chance to have some of those players come over here and train with them and play with them, so it’s exciting.”

The club’s ambition to give players a taste of European soccer has steered an opportunity for a kind of soccer foreign exchange.

“It’s our own international experience and (the players) are fortunate enough to take advantage of it,” Cox said. “That’s how it all got started. We wanted to expand our relationship into Europe, gain the experience from international clubs so we can do some home-and-away events.”

Banner Sporting Lee's SummitDecember’s Madrid trip set the stage for future travel in both directions as the club will host European coaches and, later, European players. Sporting LS also hopes to travel to Bayern Munich in late 2016 or early 2017, and is also planning a trip to Chelsea, England.

“We’ll start with coaches and then we’re going to involve some players, maybe have them come over and play a friendly,” Cox said. “It’s kind of a home-and-away series that we hope to grow in 2016, ’17, and ’18. That’s our vision for the club.”

While the Sporting Lee’s Summit views this trip as a way to increase international exposure, the five kids and three coaches saw it as an once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“The Real Madrid academy, the complex, it’s just phenomenal,” said Belton sophomore Dawson Lee. “It’s like nothing I have ever seen before. It’s just amazing. From U8 all the way up to the pros, they’re all such professionals, as if it’s their job already. They’re treated like it. I think that’s why soccer’s so big over there.”

Said Ron’s son Kameron, who is a Lee’s Summit North junior, “The Real Madrid facility was one of the most amazing things I think I’ve seen. How high tech it was and the stadium with the technology that they have invested in. It was like something out of a movie. That’s how great it was.”

Real Madrid’s academy begins training soccer players early in grade school for more than a decade until they are ready to become professionals. Soccer seasons typically run the same time as school sessions, September through May, and school is designed to fit a soccer schedule.

“School ends every day at two o’clock,” Cox said. “Kids are dropped off in their academy kits and they report to their fields and go to work. They’re so focused. They’re not disorganized. It’s business. I asked an academy coach why and he said it’s because every one of those kids is a pot of gold. They represent the opportunity to make something for their family.

“Throughout the week I saw 16, 17, 18-year-olds, all business, all the time. And they are very, very, very good. I know why Real Madrid’s first- and second- team are so good because they play their system from when they are little tiny kids until they are high school or college-age players.”

Said Lee, “The reason they are such a successful club is because from a young age, they encourage the best. That’s what they do; they try to make everybody the best. They want the best players in the world to be in their academy and on their teams. I think they do a great job of getting that done.”

The discipline impressed SLS players.

“I definitely learned a lot of things over there,” Lee’s Summit West junior Connor Young said. “Everything counts. Everything you’re doing has to relate to the game and you’ve just got to be your best all the time, make every moment count. Their academy is amazing. They had 10 fields and swimming pools and living rooms for all the players. It was just one the best academies I’ve ever seen.”

Belton junior Israel Rocha called it “unbelievable.

“It’s the best facility I’ve seen,” Rocha said. “It opened up my eyes. It motivated me to keep pushing. It’s like a residency. The players live and go to school in the residency. They’re always together. It’s like a family. It’s 24-by-7 soccer, which is like heaven for me.”

They also enjoyed the cultural experience.

“It was awesome,” Young said. “Just like being in a soccer town; here it’s baseball and football. There everything is soccer. You drive and there’s a soccer stadium over there and a soccer stadium over there, and kids playing soccer in the street.”

Said Cox, “It was obviously a nice interaction with the people, learning about their cultures. That was fun. Also, in Madrid we went into the inner city. We spent the night in the core, that’s where we had our hotel, but during the day we went out to the smaller communities to interact with their coaches. Our kids played with their kids. I thought it was neat seeing some of the cultural things. We went to the Royal Palace. We also went to the cathedral downtown.”

It gave Sporting Lee’s Summit players a chance to meet some soccer stars, too.

“I got lucky because when I was watching one of the Academy training teams, the B team (Castilla) was practicing on the back field,” Rocha said. “I remembered that (former French star Zinédane) Zidane coaches that team. The coach told me that if you go in little groups, maybe you can be closer. Then it was my luck that when we got closer they were coming out, so I got to take a picture with Zidane and (Norse star Martin) Odegaard (the youngest player to appear in a championship qualifying match). It was quick, but it was an amazing experience.”

Players and coaches also attended a “La Liga” match at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, which holds more than 85,000 fans. It turned out to be historic as Real Madrid became the first soccer organization to reach the 1,600-victory threshold. After falling behind early, Real Madrid routed local rival Rayo Vallecano, 10-2, marking the first time in 59 years it scored 10 goals.

“It was fantastic,” Cox said. “The stadium was packed; everybody was screaming.”

While the players encourage their peers to take advantage of future travel chances, they praised what Sporting Lee’s Summit offers.

“I really like the training and all the players,” Lee said. “I think everybody is very competitive. They all want to continue past high school, past college.”

Said Rocha, “Everything they do is for us. Coaches get here early. They’re here preparing the drills. Everything’s for our future. They get us ready and get us a lot of exposure to colleges, DI, DII, NAIA, anything. They want the best for us.”

Article by Marc Bowman


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