They have been tested against the top youth teams Europe has to offer and they came back to Cayman knowing they belong in the same company. Total Soccer spent the first weekend in June competing in a pair of football tournaments in the Netherlands and distinguished themselves on a grand stage.
Peter Reijn, the head coach of Total Soccer, brought a 10-year-old team to the Rood-Wit (Red-White) Tournament in St. Willebrord and a team of 11-year-olds to compete in the Sportchain Cup in Rotterdam. Both teams enjoyed a high calibre of opposition, but more importantly, they got to see what it’s like to play at professional venues and to conduct themselves with class and panache.
“These kids have been with us for years now. We were prepared for this,” said Reijn about bringing his players to the Netherlands, where he grew up and learned the game. “We really expect a lot from the kids in training. When everything comes together, it’s worth it and it’s motivating for the future.”
The U-11 team finished second in its group and 15th out of 48 teams at the Sportchain Cup, and it got to play against youth teams from top clubs like Juventus, AZ Alkmaar and Olympique Lyonnais.
The U-10 team, meanwhile, played against youth teams like NAC Breda, Tottenham Hotspur and SL Benfica, and it managed a 0-0 draw against a team from Anderlecht. The U-10 team finished off its tournament with a 1-0 victory over Liverpool, providing a highlight for the trip.
“I used to lose to them all the time,” said Reijn of Anderlecht, recalling his training days at K.A.A. Gent. “When you play Liverpool or Anderlecht, you’re playing teams that produce world-class talent.”
Reijn brought his 14-year-olds to England earlier this year, and the 10 and 11-year-olds have been on a few trips to the United States. But the quality of opposition in the American tournaments is a lot spottier, and it was a much more difficult level of play among the teams gathered in Holland.
Christo Durrant scored the winning goal on a penalty against Liverpool, and the U-10 team took home the Fair Play award for their sportsmanship during the tournament. That part, said Reijn, is just as important as their play on the field, because it indicates the training is paying off in subtle ways.
“We gave the kids the experience of being a pro,” he said. “They had to ride a bus to matches that were two hours away, and they shake hands with the bus driver each time they get on the bus. They clean up the bus on the way out. We want to teach the kids how to respect the opponent and the referee. We want them to never complain, to worry about themselves and control the things they can control.”
The ultimate goal is to show that Cayman players can compete against Europe and perhaps to blaze a trail for some of these players to land at academies at some of the top clubs abroad. There’s still a long way for them to go, but Reijn thinks tournaments like this prepare them both for soccer and for life.
“We’ve collected these kids from the school leagues,” he said. “They come from everywhere. It’s a high standard for them to compete internationally and do well, and that’s something we’ve hoped for.”