SoCal United Coach Jim Flowers on Preparations for Volkswagen Junior World Masters
On May 9, 2014 in Rome, Italy, a team of boys primarily from Southern California took the pitch for three rapid-fire matches in the 2014 Volkswagen Junior World Masters tournament. Representing the United States, SoCal United is made up of fourteen players from six teams – San Diego Soccer Club (SDSC), Carlsbad United F.C. (CUFC), Nomads SC, Celtic FC and Total Futbol Academy (TFA) in Southern California and Danville Mustangs in Northern California. The team is coached by Jim Flowers of SDSC and Jay Amin of CUFC.
Related Article: SoCal United Takes on the World @ VW Junior with Recap on Day 1
Before the team left for Rome, Flowers spoke with SoccerNation News editor Diane Scavuzzo on the team’s preparations and his expectations for the tournament. He explained that most of the boys have been training four to five times a week since Cal South National Cup competition ended in the middle of March. One exception to the training has been the team’s goalkeeper, who plays for Danville Mustangs in Danville, located just east of Oakland. Flowers said that they have been sending up what the team needed him to work on, and the young man has flown down for special matches and tournaments.
“We’re feeling pretty confident,” Flowers told Scavuzzo. “We played in a couple games this past weekend and the boys looked really good. They looked fit and strong.”
Because of the format of the Volkswagen Junior World Masters, with as many as four matches played in one day, games are considerably shorter – two ten-minute halves. That is just one of the major challenges that Flowers said the team will face in the tournament. Another is the size of the SoCal United players.
“While we’re extremely technical and maybe the quickest team I’ve ever been around, we’re not big,” said Flowers. “We were looking at pictures online of some of the teams that have qualified. For example Shalke, the team from Germany that qualified, has a kid on the team who is 6 foot 3. And we are all a bunch of 5-foot mighty mites, with the exception of one kid. It’s going to be interesting.”
Although size can be a factor in the air game, playing a fast, technical match can nullify any height advantage an opponent might have. Flowers is confident that his boys have what it takes to overcome the competition and move on in the tournament.
“If we impose our will on the game, I think we’ll actually be very successful,” Flowers insisted. “I can’t imagine that any team is any better than us, soccer-wise.”
Asked what he meant by “soccer-wise,” Flowers explained, “I would say that technically and tactically speaking, we are on par with any of those teams. I can’t imagine they’d be that much better.”
The first-day results seem to prove that out, as SoCal United finished in second place in Group B with 6 points and a +3 goal differential, behind group leader Kazakhstan. The Americans defeated group rivals Switzerland and United Arab Emirates by identical 2-0 scores before falling 1-0 to Kazakhstan. Still to come are the final two Group B teams, Australia and Spain. The team had opened their Rome stay with a 4-0 win in a friendly scrimmage against South Africa.
Knowing that their team would be up against bigger and likely more physical opponents, Flowers and Amin scheduled the boys against older and bigger teams as they made final preparations. They also worked with a dedicated fitness coach, a former Olympic sprinter from Nigeria, to train the boys for the first 30-45 minutes of their two-hour Wednesday and Saturday practices.
Another possible challenge the team will face is the size of the roster, in terms of number of players. While the tournament allows up to 17 players on the roster, SoCal United has only 14 – but Flowers does not expect this to be a major factor. Because of the shortened length of matches and the condensed length of the tournament, injuries are likely to be less of a factor than at a longer tournament that has full-length matches.
“If it was a five-day long tournament like Dallas Cup, then I would worry,” he said, “but it’s short and sweet, so I think that the smaller roster will actually help us. If you have a 20-minute game, how do you get in the six kids that are on the bench if you have a roster of 17? It’s impossible. So I think for us that actually will be an advantage.”
Flowers and Amin have been doing their own preparations, watching videos of possible opponents on YouTube. Many of the individual country championship matches have been posted, and Flowers has been impressed with what he has seen.
“The team that I was probably most impressed with, watching on YouTube, was the Besiktas team from Turkey,” Flowers admitted. “They are a very, very good little team. They have a little tiny guy, No. 10, who is just magic. Their whole final with the Fenerbahce team is online. We’ve also watched the German teams play, and you can see the Brazilian team and the Spain final, which was in the Vicente Calderon, Atletico Madrid’s home stadium.”
No matter what the final results are, this will have been a unique experience for the entire team. While Flowers has helped take teams to tournaments in Europe before, including MIC Cup and Gothia Cup, those were as club teams. This time he and the team are representing their country in international competition.
“We have our jackets and we have our shirts, and everything that VW has helped provide us, as well as what some of the parents have helped with, and it’s all USA,” Flowers marveled. “Even the backpack has the USA flag. I think that makes it that much more significant.”
After the final whistle blows, the team will return home and the boys will go back to their respective clubs, but the camaraderie they have developed will remain. Asked if the team would consider reuniting for another tournament, Flowers admitted, “We’ve already talked about where we can go next year if we want to get together outside of our clubs. It’s come up a lot, and it’s natural. You’d expect that.”