Coach Juan Carlos Goicochea and his DUSC team.
Team focuses on improving play, not just winning
By Judith Stiles
Believing that the world was round, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in search of the New World. And although it is widely believed that he was not the first to arrive on this continent, one thing is certain, he did not land anywhere near Greenwich Village, or the neighboring hamlet of Brooklyn. Nevertheless, throughout New York City, Columbus Day rivaled the best of popular holidays with fabulous parties and parades. And while many New Yorkers were busy honoring Columbus by marching along Fifth Ave., some of those who worship the roundness of the soccer ball skipped out, and opted to play calcio, which is the preferred name of the game in Italian.
More than 125 teams converged on gorgeous grass fields near the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn for the annual Christopher Columbus Cup Soccer Tournament. The Brooklyn Italians Soccer Club sponsored this three-day event, drawing teams from as far away as Massachusetts, Florida and Canada. And from across the waters of the great East River, several teams from the Downtown United Soccer Club made the journey to compete.
Gustavo Palomino, director of coaching at Downtown United, encouraged his coaches and players to take a break from the regular season games to participate in a minimum of four games at this tournament.
Nine-year-old Meril Takizawa of DUSC was thrilled with the chance to play soccer in such a large event, as 10 games were played simultaneously at the expansive Dreir-Offerman Park. While Takizawa’s team played eight versus eight on the field, the 16-to-19-year-olds competed in 11-versus-11 games, nearby at Floyd Bennett Field in the Columbus Cup college showcase.
On the sideline of Takizawa’s games, the excitement was electric as his mother, Kazuko, who also plays soccer, remarked, “Oh I love watching these games but this soooo. . . makes me want to get out on a field and play in a tournament!”
Young Takizawa played excellent defense, rallying his DUSC team against a local team from the Big Apple Soccer League. He was skilled at winning the ball and passing to open midfielders. The DUSC team looked like little mini-men, as they played a great game of passing and not just booting the ball willy-nilly. This mature style of play can be credited to the excellent coaching of Juan Carlos Goicochea, who learned the game himself in Colombia.
“I want my players to be comfortable with the ball on the field and I want them to be creative,” said Goicochea, whose son Sebastian is a star forward on the team. Young Goicochea’s facile dribbling and speed just might earn him a spot playing at Floyd Bennett Field with the big guys sometime soon.
It was also apparent that Callum Johnson learned a trick or two from his older brother Christian, who is on the U.S. National Team. Callum looked up and quickly surveyed the field before he made expert passes, which is also uncharacteristic of most 10-year-old players. In the second half of the game, Moctar Niang deftly dribbled around three opponents and wowed the spectators as he too made a perfect pass. Even his father, Mamadou Niang, a former National Team player from Senegal, was impressed.
Many soccer coaches in the Downtown United Soccer Club, including Goicochea, believe that when youngsters play soccer the emphasis should be on developing, even if it means not winning a lot of games in the beginning. For this reason, Goicochea’s team of mostly 9-year-olds was entered in an older 10-year-old division, without expectations of winning a lot of games. When the score was 4-0 at halftime in favor of the Big Apple team, nobody from DUSC seemed to be upset.
The youngsters seemed to understand this was part of the development process and were happy to play in games with good competition. All the players, especially the tough-as-nails sweeper, Andrew DeMaria, ran back onto the field and played their hearts out during the second half. DeMaria thwarted almost every scoring attempt of the Apples, and fortunately DUSC’s speedy Salvitti Edoardo had a breakaway late in the game resulting in a beautiful goal.
One could view the final score of 5-1 as a big loss for DUSC. However, the younger, smaller fellows from DUSC actually tied in the second half, 1-1, and that is certainly development and progress. After the game, as the parents chatted and mulled over the details of the match, the players trotted off the field to grab another bit of Columbus Day fever at the snack bar. They gobbled up tasty hot dogs and just about the best Italian sausage with peppers and onions in town. This may not have been the best power meal for an athlete, but it was an irresistible way to celebrate the game of calcio on Columbus Day.