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Edmonton Journal: Local lads reach for internation


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Local lads reach for international soccer glory

Twenty-one Under-13 stars gear up for March trip to Spain to test their mettle

Nick Lees, The Edmonton Journal

Published: 3:01 am

It's not quite light Saturday morning at the Victoria Soccer Centre and Barcelona soccer great Ronaldinho is running onto the pitch.

He catches a 35-metre pass in the crook of his foot, spins on a dime and drills the ball into the back of the net.

But wait, this player looks about half the height of Brazilian-born Ronaldinho, who has twice been named both FIFA and FIFPro World Player of the Year.

I'm staring across the poorly lit arena for a better look when I'm informed the player with the Ronaldinho jersey is 11-year-old Cooper Csorba.

"The jersey is the real $120 thing," says his dad, artist Steven Csorba.

"It came from Barcelona. Ronaldinho is a hero to most of these kids, along with French international striker Thierry Henry, sold to Barcelona by Arsenal in a $32-million deal last June."

Csorba says that soccer fans around the world may one day be as familiar with the names of Edmonton soccer players, such as Tryston Felix, Marco Saporito, Sebastian Cabrehra and Anthony Estephan.

The lads have been named to a 21-strong squad of the University of Alberta's Green and Gold Soccer Academy Under-13 players who will travel to Spain on March 23.

It's the youngest squad the academy has sent to international competition.

The lads will train and play against Spanish premier division academy teams, such as Athletic Bilbao.

The young Edmonton stars, representing six local clubs, have also been invited to play in Trofeo Dani Guenes, an international youth tournament.

The competition is one of the top youth competitions in the world.

It attracts teams from such giants as Barcelona, Athletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Ajax, Manchester United, Inter Milan and A.C. Milan.

"We thought it a good idea to take an Under-13 to Spain," says Inaki Ulloa Villalonga, the Green and Gold head coach who played goalkeeper for several semi-professional Spanish teams.

"By the time many European players are 15, they have already been playing a high level of soccer for four years.

"It's important our players find out the standard of play required in international competition. To do well, they will need to raise their standard of play from very good to excellent."

He believes the youngsters are skilful, but notes other academies have selected squads from throughout their countries. "Our players are from one community: Edmonton," he says.

The lads themselves are intrepid. They all believe they are destined to become professional soccer players.

"I've been playing soccer since I was three," says Inter striker and midfielder Estephan. "My father kicked the ball to me and I'd kick it back for about as long as I remember.

"I'm counting the days till we get to Spain. I think I'd like to play in Italy or Brazil. They are among the best."

Cabrera, who plays midfield or defence for Juventus, has set his eyes on playing for Chile.

His dad, Jaime Cabrera, who played in major league competition here, says: "I'd like to see him pursue a degree along with soccer. It's important to have a backup to your dreams. What would he do if he were injured?"

Cooper plays left midfield for Inter, is the youngest player on the squad and would like to become a professional.

"My favourite team is Barcelona," he says. "I love to watch Ronaldinho and Henry in action. I know Spain is going to be tough. But we will be ready."

Jacquie Dumas, mother of Inter striker Tryston Felix, says: "All Tryston talks about is when he's a professional. He draws himself scoring goals. He must have 20 soccer balls at home."

Steven Csorba says some parents say the coaches take the game too seriously. The boys should be having more fun.

"To be one of the best, you have to train hard at any sport," says Dumas. "Tristan is fast, skilful and aggressive. He loves to play and knows he must be very fit."

Felix says he has a plan if he doesn't make pro: "I'll just keep practising."

The cost to take the squad to Spain is estimated at $110,000 and Csorba is giving the parents of each player one of his Gretzky prints valued at $3,000.

"Hopefully they each know someone who might want to support the squad by buying it for $2,500," says Csorba, who also plans a trip book and video.

Sponsors are also being sought for all aspects of the 21/2-week trip and a juggle-a-thon is being planned.

"We also hope to raise funds for Kids With Cancer," adds Csorba, a cancer survivor. "It's important to teach youngsters to become involved in helping others."

Coach Villalonga, who notes players will also learn life skills and culture in Spain, believes soccer has a great future in Canada.

"I believe Canada will be a world force in soccer one day," he says. "We might not be here to see it. But these boys will."


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