Volume 74, Number 34 | December 29 - January 04, 2004


Gustavo Palomino and his son Sebastian Palomino

Soccer coaching director passes along his passion

By Judith Stiles

When his grades in school were not up to snuff, his mother did the unthinkable and forbade him to play soccer on his team for an entire year, and as Gustavo Palomino remembers it, “That felt like my legs had been cut off!” However he adds, wincing, “At age 9 it was a good lesson in life, and I always did well in school after that.”

Today he is the director of coaching at the Downtown United Soccer Club in Greenwich Village, where he brings a rich and exciting approach to the game of soccer, which he learned as a boy in Lima, Peru.

“Soccer, or football as they called it when I was growing up, was everything in Peru. The whole country lived for the game and most of the children started playing in little parks all over the city by age 4,” he says, as he describes the differences between soccer in New York City and Lima. Children played soccer in the streets and in the parks from dawn to dusk. “We played right after school and on weekends — all morning, taking a break for meals, and then until the sun went down. Then my brother and I would play one versus one in the hallway of our building with a tennis ball in bare feet, until my mother sent us to bed,” he fondly recalls.

Unlike in the U.S., most children in Peru have acquired basic ball skills, such as juggling, dribbling, shooting and passing when it comes time to join a club team at age 7. The most sought after club was “La U,” or Universitario de Deportes, in Lima, where many famous international players trained and later coached, such as Lolo Fernandez. When Palomino was a child, hundreds of children tried out for the team in his age group, allowing only a few touches on the ball per kid during the evaluation. However, young Palomino was picked to join the prestigious under-8-years-old team, providing him with an opportunity to train with some of the best soccer players in the world.

Now, years later, along with Palomino, some of the most talented and qualified coaches in the metro area train the youth players in Greenwich Village. All of them are licensed and experienced players themselves, with a specific step-by-step agenda to develop a higher level of play within the club. Downtown United boasts three coaches from the Eastern New York State Olympic Development Program, as well as Coach Amanda Vandervort, head coach of the women’s team at New York University, and Coach Dragos Herninean, coach of the women’s team at City College. Under the leadership of Palomino there are 14 travel teams and over 600 recreational players enjoying weekly practices and games, as well as a rejuvenated camp program held year-round.

This week the Holiday Camp is being held indoors at Pier 40 with a focus on going back to the basic skills building that Palomino learned as youth player in Peru. “At the camps we have an emphasis on developing players individually or in small groups,” says Palomino. At this winter camp there the ratio of players to coaches is 2 to 1, so that children with different skill levels will get the attention they need. Besides Palomino, Christian Cheque, an Olympic Development coach, is working with the kids as well as participating in small-sided scrimmages, where the players can learn from the coaches by playing alongside them.

For the first time in fall of 2004, Palomino initiated free instructional clinics for recreational players who wanted to learn more about the game without having to commit to the sometimes rigorous schedule of travel soccer. This program was so popular that out of the fall group intermediate soccer teams were formed — in between travel and recreational — called tournaments teams, that will compete in seasonal tournaments in the metro area. Instead of the more demanding travel team schedule, tournament teams will only have one practice per week with a licensed coach.

The first week in April marks the beginning of the DUSC’s spring recreational soccer program with co-ed and girls’ divisions. In the meantime, what are you going to do with your kids on all those school vacations? Send an e-mail to Palomino to be put on the mailing list for more holiday camps, as well to receive the brochure for an exciting new summer camp at Pier 40, replete with a guest coaching program where college coaches or pros will sometimes visit for morning clinics on the beautiful new fields, before the campers trot off to take a midday swim, mostly likely at neighboring Borough of Manhattan Community College.

For further information on camps and teams, e-mail gmsgpalomino@optonline.net or call 646-247-6449 — you might also get some individualized soccer advice for your child, or perhaps hear a good story or two about Peruvian soccer players. If you’re lucky, Palomino just might tell you the one about Lolo Fernandez in the 1936 Olympics, who, rumor has it, scored a goal with a rocket shot that was so hard it put a hole in the net before the eyes of a thoroughly astonished Adolf Hitler. Now that’s a good Peruvian soccer tale!

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