By Randy Vogt
With 1,621 travel teams -- 820 boys teams and 801 girls teams -- the Long Island Junior Soccer League is one of the world's largest soccer leagues. Eighty LIJSL players, both boys and girls, from ages 8 to 14 are playing in the New York Red Bulls' Regional Developmental School. They train on Tuesday nights on Long Island. Some of these LIJSL players will be playing in a one-day tournament this spring, their only official competition as a unit all year. The program is no cost to soccer families as it is funded entirely by the LIJSL and its sponsors.
An e-mail survey was sent to the LIJSL players and their families with the Red Bulls program. The questions were simple, such as name your favorite soccer player with no choices listed. The interesting results showed the rise of globalization and the Fox Soccer Channel as well as the decline of the immense popularity of the U.S. women’s national team. Of course, responses from fewer than 100 elite players should not be concluded as a representation of all youth soccer players but their answers were nevertheless revealing.
Lionel Messi was the kids’ choice as their favorite player as he was selected by 20% of the kids. Coming in second was Cristiano Ronaldo with 12% of the vote, followed by Kaka, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie each with 6%. Lest we forget, the great Pele received one vote.
Just one female was selected as Mia Hamm received one vote, even though half the respondents were girls. The only other Americans selected were Chris Armas and Landon Donovan. With record TV ratings for the 2010 World Cup in the United States and more American ticket-holders in South Africa than any other country except the host nation, there was much discussion that soccer is finally fulfilling its potential as a spectator sport here. However, only one LIJSL player picked one of the Americans who played in the last World Cup as their favorite player.
The three MLS players who received votes– -- one apiece -- were Donovan, his Los Angeles Galaxy teammate David Beckham plus the Red Bulls’ Thierry Henry. Nearly all the other players selected play or played (as a couple recently retired) club soccer in Europe.
Barcelona was the “favorite pro soccer team,” as the question stated, of these kids as the club received 18% of the vote. Coming in second was Arsenal with 16% of the vote, then Real Madrid with 14% of the tallies. The Red Bulls and Manchester United were tied in fourth place with 10% of the vote apiece. Chelsea (8%), AC Milan (6%), Tottenham Hotspur (4%) and Brazil (4%) were the teams that also received multiple votes. Of national teams -- besides Brazil -- Argentina, Italy, the U.S. women’s national team and World Cup champion Spain received one vote apiece.
For the kids’ worst moment on the soccer field, 20% responded by saying it was missing a penalty kick (whether in the game or a shootout); getting injured or scoring an own goal were tied in second place with 16% of the vote.
In the portion of the survey that stated to mention something interesting about yourself, midfielder and goalkeeper Logan Ward is a perfect 10 as she knew that it was interesting she turned 10 on 10/10/10. Many of the most interesting answers involved keepers. Joseph Basile had the opportunity to take a penalty kick against Julio Cesar when the Inter Milan keeper visited Long Island in 2008. The 14-year-old Samantha Cobotic is a relatively shy and reserved person but that’s not at all true when playing goalkeeper.
Finally, 10-year-old Jake Sharinn wants to become the first American to play goalkeeper for Brazil. Perhaps he can convince his family to move from Long Island to Sao Paulo?
(Randy Vogt lives on Long Island and he has officiated over 7,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In his book, Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at http://www.preventiveofficiating.com/)