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All-Stars fall to England
Georgia All-Stars' Alpha Balde and England National's Andrew Kelly head the ball Friday during an exhibition game at Flowery Branch High School. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
FLOWERY BRANCH — Three things were abundantly clear Friday night in the Georgia XI All-Star soccer team 7-1 loss to the English Schools’ Football Association Under-18 team.

The first was that the young American soccer players have the same drive, determination and passion that their counterparts from across the pond do.

Unfortunately, the second was that drive, determination and passion has not yet brought the level of play in America up to that of Europe.

But the third, and most important, was that there is great hope for the rise of America as a soccer power in the world.

Even with the 7-1 loss, the Georgia All-Stars are taking something positive from the experience.

“We had a chance to see how a higher level of soccer is played, you know, with these guys from overseas,” said Irving Salgado, a player for Gainesville High School. “They play very quick, very physical.

“We go away with a loss, but we definitely learned something from (it).”

Georgia XI’s coach Jason Smith agreed.

“I told these fellas just to enjoy themselves and I think they’re actually in fairly good spirits, even with the 7-1 loss,” he said.
Although the final score does not reflect it, the Georgia players have a right to those good spirits.

The ESFA Under-18 team plays together year round after graduating a year early from secondary school, which is the equivalent of American high school. The team that Georgia XI faced Friday night has played dozens of matches together and has players from all parts of England.

Most of the players for the Georgia XI All-Stars met each other earlier this week at the team’s only practice. And several others met their teammates during the pre-game warm ups Friday.

Two players didn’t even arrive until after kickoff.

One of those two was Jairo Serrano who scored Georgia XI’s only goal with four minutes, 54 seconds remaining in the first half off a long-distance pass into the box from Salgado.

The lack of time playing together was something that Smith kept in mind during his pre-game talk with his team.

“I told them our goal (Friday) is to at least try and go forward and see if we can get a goal,” he said. “We scored and that was our objective.

“Considering we threw the guys together, I think they battled pretty hard. A lot of the (English) goals came from back post runs and our (defensive formation) just wasn’t very good.”

Things such as a team’s defensive formation come from playing and practicing together, day in and day out. Something the English team has had and the Georgia XI team has not.

That’s not to say that the English team is not physically gifted, because they certainly looked it. With most of their team over
six-feet tall, the English side was physically imposing.

“That team is obviously of good size,” Smith said. “Physically, that was probably the biggest challenge. (They have) just big strong boys.”

And, as any sports coach will say, you can’t coach size.

But it wasn’t just the size of the English team that was impressive, it was their speed.

“It was a game at a very high level, very fast paced,” said Salgado. “(But) overall, although the scoreboard doesn’t show it, I think we did pretty good for a team that was just put together with one practice session.

“(Overall) it was a very good experience.”

The Georgia players aren’t the only ones going home with an important experience.

English captain Nicholas Hancock is taking valuable lessons home as well.

“(I) take a lot of experience, you know, how the American system works, difference styles of play (and) how to play in the climate,” he said.

Learning to play in the climate is going to be an important step for Hancock as he prepares to come back to America to be a student-athlete. He has received scholarship offers from schools in California and Georgia.

The English team has been in America for the past ten days and Hancock feels that the trip has, “really broadened our horizons of America and just shows what a great country (it is).”

Hancock also said that he learned, “what great people there are in Georgia.”

When asked what he thinks of American soccer compared to European football, the English captain gave an enthusiastic and optimistic answer.

“Soccer’s on the increase (in America), its still got a lot of building (to do), but with the facilities you’ve got, the coaches that will come over from Europe, and then the athletic side of America (in general), you’ve got a great, great chance to really be competitive,” he said.

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