Sporting Portugal Hosts Georgia Soccer ODP All-Stars

by Jennifer Johns

Oguchi Onyewu plays for one of the most historic European clubs in the world. Sixteen of the best boy players from Georgia Soccer’s ODP traveled to Lisbon recently to play on those same hallowed grounds. They received individual physical and technical evaluations, trained alongside the Sporting youth players, and attended Europa Cup play. This exposure proved to be an unforgettable experience for the young men, perhaps grooming them to follow in Onyewu’s footsteps.

From five different age groups, spanning the birth years ‘95-‘99, Georgia Soccer’s very best ODP players were selected to participate with the Sporting club players. As part of Georgia Soccer’s ongoing partnership with Sporting Club of Portugal, these players (along with Georgia Soccer DOC, Jacob Daniel; Georgia ODP and club coach and Portuguese native, Nuno Piteira; and administrator, Steve Johnson) traveled to Lisbon and stayed at the academy grounds of the Sporting Club of Portugal.

The Georgia Soccer group stayed on-site in the youth dormitories, apart from the academy program young men. Meals at the academy were first-class, both nutritious and delicious. The double rooms with attached baths featured local common areas with TV’s, billiards and foosball. But there wasn’t much down time… as the training began on Wednesday morning with fitness testing.

The boys were speed-tested using time trials with video playback, allowing one-on-one feedback on stride, gait and hand efficiency. Explosiveness (jump testing) and flexibility tests were also performed. By the time the kids were done, Sporting knew their athletic capabilities, and it was time to train. By Wednesday afternoon, boys joined their age groups on the training grounds. Seven immaculate fields hosted training sessions for all age groups of Sporting clubs, and the boys – wearing full Sporting practice kits – joined in.

The increased speed of the game required that the Georgia Soccer ODP players make some adaptations, but by day two or three our coaches were complimented on the players’ skills and great soccer decision making. Director of Coaching, Jacob Daniel, remarks, “This is the first time I have taken a group of kids overseas and had the [local] coaches be so impressed. They were asking about our players’ skill and ability. Usually it is the other way around and we are astounded at the local players. After two to three days of training, our boys adapted to the speed of play and you couldn’t tell our players from the Sporting players at the same level.” We sent our best and, at a facility where everyone is elite, they were on par within their age groups. Thursday of that week featured more training in the morning, and then in the afternoon they played a full match against one of Sporting’s U16 club teams. Though our boys were u13, u14 and u15 and up, and were in many ways mismatched physically, our team played very well. In the evening, the boys were treated to a sold-out match at Alvarade Stadium to see Sporting Clube De Portugal play in the Europa League quarterfinal match against Ukraine club Metalist. The game ended in an exciting 1-1 draw.

Friday meant more training, with a trip in the afternoon to tour the Alvarade Stadium and Sporting Museum. On Saturday, our ODP 16 were divided into two 7-a-side teams to participate in a 7v7 tournament with all of the 30 Sporting “schools” – the term for teams that are a feeder system for the Main Sporting Clube de Portugal first team. The evening featured another great learning opportunity for the boys, with the Sporting U19 team hosting U19 rivals Benfica in a key match. The game paired the number one and two teams in a smaller stadium onsite at the Sporting Academy. The sold-out crowd of 5,000 fans witnessed another 1-1 draw.

By Sunday, the boys were understandably exhausted. Performing at the top of their game all week, they were allowed to unwind by playing indoor soccer or basketball, or could relax in the lounges.

Each boy was given individual written evaluations of their first day of fitness from the Sporting Coaches. The evaluation also included an analysis of their technical and tactical capabilities. The young players are now armed with detailed coaching and a roadmap to follow.

Their final day was capped by a visit from Sporting Portugal first team players. The kids met Joao Pereira, the team captain and Portugal National team member; Diego Capel, Defender at Sporting and Spanish National team member; and Tiago, Goalkeeper Sporting.

Our boys left the next day having been “blown away” by an experience that has raised their game, their heads and their vision of what else lies across the pond.

What’s next for Georgia Soccer and Sporting?

  • June 2012, Sporting Coaches return to Georgia Soccer HQ for a second coaching clinic for Georgia Soccer coaches.
  • January 2013, Sporting Portugal hosts a team of Georgia Soccer coaches at the Sporting Lisbon Academy in Lisbon.
  • In discussion, Sporting Lisbon camps in Georgia.
  • Spring 2013, Georgia Soccer’s ODP all-stars return to Sporting Academy.

Sporting is always looking to feed its system with the best players, challenge those at their schools and bring their coaching methods to the world. Let’s see who will be the next Onyewu.