The Swedish team was disheartened. A string of losses and a scoring drought was bringing team morale down. To top it off, two of their players had left the arena.
“You are a good team,” a voice boomed out to them. “You just don’t believe it yet. You need to start believing. “
The players were asked what to do if the other team is better at dribbling.
“We pass, we pass the ball more,” the Swedish team members said in unison.
The players were asked if they should let the other teams dribble or have the ball. “No, no, no,” they shouted.
The Swedes were told that if they never let the other team have the ball and if the other team does get the ball, if the Swedish defenders are right on them with good defense, they won’t dribble around.
“If you get there quick your problem is solved,” the voice tells them. “And whose fault is that if you are bored? If you are bored then you are not playing fun soccer. Have fun.”
After a few more huddled and inspiring conversations, Team Sweden promptly took to the turf at the Dimond Park Field House for more action in Sunday’s Juneau Soccer Club 3v3 World Cup and, actually, scored a goal.
“I reminded them of great achievements in World Cup play,” tournament director Carl Ferlauto said. “Success has nothing to do with winning the first few matches. You can come into the final tournament bracket winless and then win the whole thing. And if you lose one you fall into the losers’ bracket and still get to go play.”
Team Sweden was just one of more than 30 national teams, actually comprised of 125 Juneau youth enjoying a Sunday on the pitch.
“We have won once but we lost all the other ones,” Sweden’s Sidra Gregoire said. “It is fun. In our next game I hope we pass a little more and we score a little more. We have one more game. If we lose the next one than we are out.”
The youth, ages 6-15, were divided into four divisions, with two age groups in each, and assigned to multiple national teams. Play began at 9 a.m. Sunday morning. The various countries played in a series of rounds beginning with six matches. Teams were then seeded in a double-elimination tournament.
“We are having fun,” Republic of Korea’s Noah Heidersdorf said. “It tires you out.”
The Heidersdorf name also appeared on teams Brazil and Scotland. The Holst family put players on Croatia, Portugal, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Switzerland.
“We just lost to Hungary,” Team Portugal’s Brian Holst said. “They ate us.”
With no goalies and mandatory substitutions every three minutes, there are lots of opportunities, which makes for lots of playing time and lots of fun.
“Yes I am having fun,” Republic of Korea Makenna Graham said. “We hope to win. We are having fun definitely though.”
Added friend and national opponent from the Czech Republic, Brianna Jokerst, “It is fun because it is competitive but anyone can play.”
On four different pitches, players of all ages, representing countries across the globe, ran hither and yon, here and there, back and forth and all in pursuit of a soccer ball. The most important piece of equipment worn was the smile on each face.
“That is what this whole event is about,” Juneau Soccer Club director of coaching Matt Dusenberry said. “Trying to mimic that feeling of neighborhood. We don’t have a lot of neighborhoods here, where your closest friends are just down the block. So we are trying to mimic that idea of throwing down a ball and a couple of goals and just playing.”
The World Cup event has a no coaches rule and does not allow coaching from the stands. The referees, all soccer club coaches, are needed just to enforce the game rules and to help those who are new to the game better understand the sport.
“More or less we want the kids to figure out their problems,” Ferlauto said. “They figure out when their next matches are, they figure out how to get their substitution rotation. They find their missing teammates, because at the end of the day the kids can do that. We raise the expectations and the kids meet it. We ask the parents not to help out, don’t try to coach, and let them figure it out on their own.”
Ferlauto noted that world-class professional soccer leagues have noticed over the past decade the loss of street, or “pick-up” soccer, where people figure out the game rules on their own, has been detrimental to the progression of the United States becoming more of a power in the soccer world.
“We are too structured in the United States,” Ferlauto said. “The idea is that if you are playing pick-up soccer you invent your own rules to fit the field. You decide how to be fair. You don’t need a parent or coach to tell you that.”
Turkish players were gathered on the sideline among those from Greece.
“Does anyone know what our capital is?” one Team Turkey player asked. “Is it Istanbul?”
“The most fun part is all the games to play,” Greece’s J. J. Mosher said. “I like playing soccer.”
Added Republic of Korea’s Jim Fenton “It gives you energy too, and it is fun to play.”
As each match moved into the final 10 seconds, players not out on the pitches counted down in unison and shouted “game over!”
“The more kids we can get playing at the younger ages, it always bodes well for two high school programs,” Dusenberry said. “Soccer is certainly a pretty active sport. When kids get older they are playing for 90 minutes. There is a lot of fitness involved and you hope it becomes a life-long sport for them.”
Added Ferlauto, “We want the kids to make it their game. It is a lot of football being played in a short time.”
Kids showed so much enthusiasm since the event was first held in the spring of 2010, the fall event was added immediately.
“We are only one club in Juneau,” Dusenberry said. “So who do we play? We play each other. This gives another flavor to it.”
Final tournament results were not available at press time.