Volume 73, Number 5 | June 2 - 8, 2004


Passing soccer on to the littlest Lower East Siders

By Judith Stiles

Above and below, some of the players in the recent peewee soccer event in East River Park sponsored by Loisaida Soccer Club.

In the olden days before soccer exploded in the universe of youth sports, you would occasionally find a younger brother or sister dutifully tagging along to every soccer match, rain or shine, because an older sibling had a game. They were the little “tag-alongs” who either longingly watched from the sidelines or sat around bored out of their minds. Now that youth soccer has become so popular in the U.S.A., the tag-alongs are growing in numbers, so much in fact that adjacent to almost any match you are likely to find a gaggle of them playing their own mini-game.

Finally, Loisada Soccer Club (“Loisaida” as in Spanglish for “Lower East Side”) recognized the need to give these 6- and 7-year-olds a day in the sun. Coach Kenichi Yatsuhashi and Orlando Gil of Loisada hosted a peewee gala soccer event for children under 8 years old at the E. Sixth St. field. “We lined smaller fields and had them play 4 v. 4 (four players on a side) rather than the typical 8 v. 8 so they could get more touches on the ball and really move the ball around the field,” said Coach Kenichi, a veteran coach from the metro area. “When you have eight players on a side and assigned defenders and attackers, you often get kids who become the ‘hiders,’ which is what I call the kids who hide from the ball and just stand in the back,” he added.

Coach Kenichi saw these small-sided games as not only great fun, but a more productive way to introduce the youngsters to playing soccer. There were no goalies, no assigned positions and no keeping score, although he admitted that every kid seemed to be keeping score in their head, even though the adults did not make an issue of it. It was soccer for beginners in the purest sense, because it encouraged a free-spirited approach to moving around the “space” with more action on the ball.

Coach Kenichi could easily be named Mr. Soccer, as he is currently involved in many programs throughout the metro area. First, he is head coach of the Borough of Manhattan Community College Men’s and Women’s teams. Last fall, when asked by B.M.C.C. freshman Cheryl Gignac of Canada why there wasn’t a women’s team, Coach Kenichi rolled up his sleeves and started one with her. He is also a coach for a U-8 (age 8 and under) league team at Loisada, Three times a year he gives the course that enables other coaches to be certified and obtain a D, E or F license. He is a referee for the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association and has also been spotted reffing adult games at the Urban Soccer League. He is a coach for the Olympic Development Team, a Staten Island United U-11 girls team and a Brooklyn Patriots U-16 team and even squeezes in a little after-school program a few days a week at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn.

The astonishing thing about Coach Kenichi is that he was willing to enthusiastically host a tournament for children that was absolutely free. He and Orlando Gil are strong believers that because soccer is an international sport (known as “football” almost everywhere outside the U.S.), all different kinds of children in the U.S. should be playing soccer if they have the desire, without fees being prohibitive. Club fees for teams in New York City can run from $200 a season per player up to $1,500, although several clubs offer scholarships.

Mr. Soccer (Kenichi) was asked if he ruled the universe of youth sports, what would he change? Without missing a beat he said he wished there were more programs springing up around the city that were free to children. That requires sponsors and funding of course. However, even though Loisada is a fledgling club, they stick to their mission, which is making soccer available to any child in the city who wants to play. Rumor has it that Loisada accepted a few tag-along cousins who came to the gala soccer event itching to play — tag-alongs all the way from New Jersey. Let them play, why not.

For more information about sponsoring another peewee tournament or team contact: www.lyssoccer.org

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