US Beach National Team: the Next Generation
It’s a typical traffic-packed Monday morning in Southern California. Eddie Soto calls me so we can talk all things beach soccer as he’s driving in his car to make the 30 mile trek from Seal Beach to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) campus, where he will continue another week of recruiting and preseason preparation. The assistant men’s soccer coach at UCLA for the last 7 years, and head coach of 3 LA Galaxy academy teams, Eddie is used to the commute. He chalks it up to one of those things that comes with his job, which is undoubtedly his passion.
For those who know the Orange County to Los Angeles commute during a typical work week, it’s not the most appealing thing in the world, but Eddie’s Seal Beach location makes sense for him. Specifically because he is also the head coach of the US Beach National Team, which trains in Huntington Beach, and is getting ready to enter into qualifying for the Beach Soccer World Cup, which will take place from September 18-28th of 2013 in Tahiti.
Before beach soccer became sanctioned under the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), Soto tells me that the USA and Brazil were among the top teams in the world. Now, it’s a different story. That pool of USA players from the early 1990’s got older and there hasn’t been much in the pipeline since. Soto, however, feels that in the last two and a half years, he’s begun to find a new pool of players that can help the US get back to the elite level in order to qualify for the beach soccer World Cup.
But finding those players has been his biggest challenge. Younger kids don’t aspire to be beach soccer players; they dream of making the roster for their college teams, playing professionally in Major League Soccer, or overseas. It’s an amateur sport and the players don’t get paid.
So what are the advantages to playing beach soccer and for the US Team, besides representing your country?
Danny and Diego Barrera, Colombian born and Southern California raised, have been playing soccer their entire lives, mostly on grass pitches for various semi and professional clubs, both in the United States and overseas. Both were invited by Soto into camp and recent tournaments to represent the United States, joining other players who range from age 22 to 38.
The brothers emphatically praise playing in sand as a valuable tool which has enhanced their technique, citing several factors that have helped them as professionals on all surfaces. Among some of the best advantages are the ability to confidently shoot on goal in any position with more volleys and bicycle kicks. They also have more confidence in the quality of their touches on a ball, and improved shooting accuracy.
The Barreras reside in Ventura, CA, and make the 60-mile commute to Huntington Beach whenever coach Soto calls for training. They’re well known among the Southern California soccer community, having played in several leagues and for as many as four different teams within a weekend, always trying to improve their game and style of play. Older brother Diego has played with Wilmington Hammerheads of the United Soccer League –Pro side (USL PRO). Danny is about to enter his second season with the Atlanta Silverbacks, a team in the North American Soccer League (NASL). Both leagues are third and second tiers of the USA soccer pyramid, respectively.
“There’s a lot that goes into a game on the beach,” says Diego, who has been playing beach soccer with the US Team since 2010. “Playing in sand helps us get better on a grass pitch because we become more fit. We get stronger. Playing in sand works muscles you don’t usually work on grass. You also have to be very creative and detailed in a very short amount of time.”
“The game is mainly played in the air.” Says Danny. “As a player, you’re more explosive, you have to anticipate the next play before you get it, because once you get it you only have a quick second to make a decision. You can’t hold the ball, dribble away from pressure, or through your opponent as easily as you can on grass, so there is more volleying to move the ball forward.”
As a result, both agree, accuracy is enhanced. Decisions are made instinctively, so there are mental advantages. Danny cites an example of a time where his beach soccer instincts kicked in during a game on a grass pitch, and worked to his team’s advantage.
“I was playing out wide; the ball came to me, and rather than a typical ground pass to the other midfielder, I chipped the ball over 3 or 4 players right into the forward’s feet and he scored. We do a lot of that in beach soccer with the National Team. My shooting accuracy is enhanced. It’s helped my confidence in making those quicker decisions and my technical ability has improved.”
Both brothers were recently called up to play for the US Team, who returned from the Beach Soccer World Wide Copa America tournament held in Sao Paolo, Brazil in December. The U.S. finished the tournament with an 0-3 record after falling to the hosts and eventual champions Brazil 7-4 in the first game. In the second match, the U.S. fell 2-0 to Mexico, before bowing out with a 3-1 loss to Argentina.
But coach Soto is optimistic about what’s to come for his team. His biggest goal is obviously to qualify for the 2013 World Cup, but also to carry on finding and producing top-level players. Coaching the men’s team at UCLA and the LA Galaxy Academy teams has exposed him to a wider range of talent so he can find what he needs to take the US team to the next level.
Soto will enter his fourth season with the LA Galaxy, leading the U-16 and U-18 teams during his tenure. He will add the U-15’s this season. Among his pool of talent with Galaxy Academy was home grown player Jack McBean, a midfielder for the Galaxy’s MLS side and their youngest ever signing. Add Oscar Sorto and Jose Villarreal, who were both recently called up by US U-20 Head Coach Tab Ramos to the U-20 World Cup Qualifiers. Villarreal scored in the US’ 2-1 friendly victory over Jamaica earlier in February, and both players will travel with the squad as they begin qualifying for the U-20 2014 World Cup.
Examining his resume of produced products, it’s without question that Soto is the man for the job. Looking back on where he started with the US Beach team three years ago, and comparing that to where he is today, his player pool is starting to take shape and come together just in time for their World Cup qualifiers in Tahiti.
“When I first started with the group, I had some experience with beach soccer, but there was a need for change,” he says. “Developing a new pool of players, and introducing the game to those who could be the next generation; those were the biggest priorities.” So far, he’s done just fine.
Five hours later I get online and notice that Soto had updated his Facebook status with a picture of a sun-drenched UCLA Campus. “Always worth the 2 hour commute …Good Morning UCLA” he writes as the caption. He will get back in his car around rush-hour and drive back to Seal Beach, only to wake up the following day and do it all over again, juggling a family, 3 academy teams, and a goal to take his country to a World Cup this year.
To learn more about the rules of beach soccer, and details of the game in different countries, visit http://www.beachsoccer.com
For press releases and news on the US Beach Team, visit http://www.ussoccer.com/Teams/Other-Programs/Beach-Soccer.aspx