Anybody remember street soccer? Jorge Villafana does

By Mike Woitalla

In the age of academies, pre-academies, soccer classes for 18-month-olds and curricula demanding coaches precisely plan practices for 6-year-olds, you don’t hear much talk about free play and street soccer anymore.

But ask U.S. national team left back and MLS champion Jorge Villafana about his youth soccer experience and a big smile comes to his face.

“I’ll never forget those days, playing on the streets,” said Villafana a couple days before the USA World Cup qualifier against Honduras. “That’s how I started learning soccer.”

Now 27, Villafana was born in Anaheim, California. At age 1, he and his mother moved to Mexico to live with her extended family after his parents separated. When Jorge was 7, his mother moved back to the USA so she could work and send funds to support the family while Jorge was cared for by his aunt and grandfather.

In Penjamo, a town of 40,000 in the state of Guanajuato, Villafana played daily in the streets with friends and cousins of a wide range of ages. The adult members of his family were baseball fans, but it was soccer that enchanted Jorge.

“There weren’t a lot of cars,” he said. “But every time a car came, you had to grab the ball and wait for them to pass by. Those are good childhood memories.”

He joined an indoor soccer team, but the majority of his soccer-playing was without adults around until at age 15 when he moved back to California, where he played for Anaheim High School and the youth club Juventus.

Villafana watched Liga MX games as a child. His favorite team was UNAM Pumas.

“I liked the shirt,” he said, referring to the feline face that adorns the jerseys of the Mexico City team.

He didn’t know much about MLS until he saw ads for a nationally televised talent search tryout: Univision’s “Sueno MLS.” Out of 2,000 hopefuls, Villafana, who then went by his paternal surname, Flores, came out on top and earned a spot on Chivas USA’s academy team.

Villafana spent nine seasons in MLS, the final two with the Portland Timbers, which he helped win MLS Cup 2015. After the 2015 MLS season, he got an offer from Santos Laguna.

“I could not say no,” he said. “I always dreamed of playing in Liga MX. … I moved from a cool rainy city to the desert, but that’s no problem. It's the kind of adjustment that’s part of the job.”

Last weekend he played for Santos in a 1-1 Liga MX tie with Tijuana Xolos before arriving in San Jose, California, to begin his quest of helping the USA qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

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U.S. U-19 women to train in Florida

Coach Jitka Klimkova  has called up 26 players, all born in 1999, for the U.S. U-19 women’s national team’s camp March 25-April 1 camp in Sunrise, Florida.

Only three players on the roster -- members of the USA’s 2016 U-17 Women’s World Cup team, defenders Kiara Pickett and Emily Smith and midfielder Sydney Zandi -- are returnees from the U-23s’ January camp. But the January U-19 roster included several 1998-born players and 19 players from that roster traveled to La Manga, Spain, with the U.S. U-20s in early March. There are two collegians on the roster -- defender Sinclaire Miramontez of Nebraska and forward Emily Madril of Florida State – with the rest playing for their youth clubs.

U.S. U-19 women’s national team
GOALKEEPERS (3): Hillary Beall (SoCal Blues; Laguna Beach, Calif.), Brooke Bollinger (Space Coast United; Melbourne, Fla.), Zoe Clevely (Pateadores Academy; Huntington Beach, Calif.).
DEFENDERS (7): Joanna Harber (Eastside FC; Bellevue, Wash.), Sinclaire Miramontez (Nebraska, Lenexa, Kansas), Taylor Parker (Colorado Storm; Aurora, Colo.), Olivia Petit (Internationals SC; Akron, Ohio), Kiara Pickett (Eagles SC; Santa Barbara, Calif.), Sophia Serafin (West Coast FC; Glendora, Calif.), Emily Smith (De Anza Force; Los Gatos, Calif.).
MIDFIELDERS (10): Ambere Barnett (SLSG - Illinois; Rockport, Ind.), Tiana Caffey (Space Coast United; Port Saint Lucie, Fla.), Emina Ekic (Javanon FC; Fairdale, Ky.), Alexis Loera (Colorado Storm; Thornton, Colo.), Alyssa Poarch (Continental FC; Middletown, Del.), Delanie Sheehan (West Coast SC; Discovery Bay, Calif.), Danielle Stephan (Michigan Hawks; Lansing, Mich.), Taryn Torres (FC Dallas; Frisco, Texas), Olivia Wade (LaRoca FC; Kaysville, Utah), Sydney Zandi (Penn Fusion; West Chester, Pa.).
FORWARDS (6): Brianna Atterbury (Sereno SC; Gilbert, Ariz.), Sydney Carr (Arsenal FC; Orange, Calif.), Rachael Dorwart (PA Classics; Mechanicsburg, Pa.), Penelope Hocking (SoCal Blues; Anaheim, Calif.), Emily Madril (Florida State; Navarre, Fla.), Adrienne Richardson (Minnesota Thunder; Oakdale, Minn.).

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Youth clubs hooking up with pros

Tampa Bay United, which fields teams the boys U.S. Soccer Development Academy and the girls ECNL, has affiliated with the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies.

“Over the last several years, the Rowdies’ focus has been to create a successful business model for both the first team players on the field and the stadium experience for the fans,” Rowdies COO Lee Cohen said. “We feel as if we are now prepared to focus on the next steps of our soccer evolution in the Tampa Bay Area. Partnering with TBU and making that club part of our family as the TBU Rowdies was, in our minds, the most logical next step.”

Earlier this month, NASL club North Carolina FC and its sister club, the NWSL’s Courage, announced a collaboration with the youth organizations Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) and Triangle Futbol Club Alliance.

“This truly is an historic partnership,” said North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik. “We now have a soccer pyramid from youth recreational leagues up to the highest level of men’s and women’s professional soccer in North Carolina. North Carolina FC Youth will be home to more than 13,500 youth players and will be a key positive differentiator in our already strong Major League Soccer bid.”

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USA heads to the 2017 U-20 World Cup

18 comments about "Anybody remember street soccer? Jorge Villafana does".
  1. Nick Daverese, March 24, 2017 at 9:19 a.m.

    I played street soccer. Well it was park soccer where people walked their dogs. We used a garbage can for a goal one on each end of the field. Hit it you scored. How many players on a side who ever was there 4 to apx 30. What age any age from 7 to 35. Everyone was smart enough not to play cut throat no one wanted to hurt kids playing with you. Anyone keep track of the score no too many goals to keep track of. Did players learn from playing the young players learned the most from watching the older players try things. If a kid asked an older player about a move. The older guys stopped playing and would show them how they did it. You would not believe how many of those 20 yard shots him the can.

  2. Nick Daverese, March 24, 2017 at 9:36 a.m.

    i did that when I first moved to brooklyn. I was an adult player I found Ave H park. I called it dog crap park. That neighborhood at that time was all Haitian. I found them friendly people. I would bring my youngest son to play. At 7 he was playing for BW Gotschee so he could play. I was the only white guy there but they were cool people and let me play when I asked them. Great thing get there in the morning you could play until you could not see at night. Get tired rest then comeback.

    When people try to recreate they make it the same age. They feel the kids need adult supervision why?

  3. Kent James, March 24, 2017 at 10:20 a.m.

    As a kid growing up in suburban NC in the 1970s, I played street football (the American kind), since that was before I had ever heard of soccer. Introduced to soccer in 8th grade, we played pick-up at recess, and then as an adult, whereever I moved, I was always able to find pickup games (until recently, when my knees objected). Pickup is vital to player development because it encourages creativity and fights boredom and burnout.

  4. frank schoon, March 24, 2017 at 10:29 a.m.

    How wonderful that Villafana didn't get involved with adults in soccer until he was 14 when he moved back to the states. And the ONLY adults he might have been in contact with is if he played against them. He was allowed to develop creatively playing street soccer without any restrictions placed on him by some licensed coach who himself played at the level for Joe's Pizza Hut. He no doubt developed ,as it should be, in the most natural manner possible in the most important stage of his development "the technical stage". And don't forget every step of his development during the "technical stage" was always done under pressure or rather against an opponent, not some cone.

  5. Wooden Ships, March 24, 2017 at 10:59 a.m.

    Good stuff and I could add my own. I hope Villifana starts tonight. US soccer (everyone involved in the sport) can continue to ignore the value of street, pickup, free play to our detriment. Frank, have you seen the sizes of some of those cone's?

  6. frank schoon replied, March 24, 2017 at 11:04 a.m.

    Ships,LOLOLOLLOL . Yeah the bigger the cone the better the skill improvement. Hey, read the San Francisco Chronicler on Donovan statement about LACK OF DEVELOPMENT IN THE PAST 6 YEARS....SURPRISE ,SURPRISE!!!

  7. frank schoon replied, March 24, 2017 at 11:17 a.m.

    SHIPS, I'm going to watch Villafana for his nuances with
    the ball under pressure. You can notice right away a player who grew up learning playing street soccer as compared to some kid who learning soccer from a licensed coach who has a video collection of Wiel Coerver tapes in the back of his car along with a stack of cones in his trunk.....

  8. Nick Daverese, March 24, 2017 at 1:50 p.m.

    Kent you may or may not a preciate this. I was a kid in Italian Harlem we also played American foot ball there on a narrow street. This was in my early teens. You had to dodge moving cars as you played.most of us played tackle football in our local park Jefferson park in started from a Hun 14 street that Harlem talk for 114 street. We would play against other blocks before I found the BUA League.

    Any way my older brother also played he is 80 now. He got his leg broke in a game. I saw the guy who broke his leg playing two hand touch. I told my friend I am going to get that guy. We ran a sweep in the street. I blocked him knocked him over a parked car and when he came down he broke his leg. When I got home I told my brother.

  9. Thomas Brannan, March 24, 2017 at 1:52 p.m.

    One more. Not in the street but in the schoolyard after school. If no one had a ball you could walk down the alley and get 5 soda bottles out of trash cans. Take them to the drug store and they would give you 2 cents a bottle. Then you would have a dime. For a dime you could buy a relatively small rubber ball. Then you could play. But you can't hit a small ball on the laces. But you can with the outside of your foot. Therefore another Wolfgang Overath. Favorite surface: OUTSIDE OF THE FOOT.

  10. frank schoon replied, March 24, 2017 at 2:43 p.m.

    Outside of the foot passes today are rarely seen. Most players feel very uncomfortable doing it. Technically, when passing the ball with the outside of the foot it saves you a step as compared to executing with the instep or inside of the foot. Also passing with the outside is much faster giving the defender less time to adjust...

  11. Nick Daverese, March 24, 2017 at 2:18 p.m.

    You can tell a real player when he can control a ball and use the outside of his foot to pass the ball to a flank player.

    I survived as a kid on getting those 2 cents on empty soda bottles. I ran away from home at 11. I had no money so I would gather some empty soda bottles and use the 2 cents deposit to buy food. Haha food candy bars, more soda their was a nice women who had a place built near the park and you could buy a small milk for a penny. It was charity but people thought even if you paid a penny for it it was not charity. I remember that women very fondly.

  12. James Madison, March 24, 2017 at 7:54 p.m.

    It's not street soccer per se. As one of my fellow coaches who grew up in Mexico City observed the other day while we watched our team of Under-14 boys train with less than full effort, "In Mexico, how well you play makes a difference in how you are regarded; here, it's just another activity for the boys."

  13. frank schoon replied, March 24, 2017 at 9:17 p.m.

    James, that is exactly right. You want to be top dog among your competitors. You want to be the best for that meant you were able to pick the teams, because you had earned the right. It is not just another activity , but a particular activity you love and there is a beauty to it. Your fellow coach even though having grown up there, so sorry to say, never REALLY understood...

  14. Bob Ashpole, March 25, 2017 at 12:56 a.m.

    Late 50s and early 60s played during recess at grade school. Street soccer was the only soccer at that time and place.

  15. Nick Daverese, March 25, 2017 at 1:21 a.m.

    Well when I was in my late 50s I lived in Marine park. I would go to that park to jog and watch kids play different sports. Then a lot of Russians start to move in and they would play our game. I was still training players but not near there near bay ridge the Verranzo bridge.

    So I see these older Russians play. They can't play they only ran when they had the ball. The rest would stand around until they got the ball. So I felt like playing I ask them if I could play. They were all talking Russian I could not speak Russian. So at first I could not get in the game. :)
    Finally they were short a player so they finally I got in. I actually move when I did not have the ball I did a job on them. Our side never lost. Then when I showed up at the field they fight to get me on their side.

  16. Nick Daverese, March 25, 2017 at 2:40 a.m.

    Bob one of my worst moments in Kindergarten as a 5 yr old happen during recess. If you were good at recess At st. Ann's prison they would allow you to play on a balcony right out side the class room it had toys and other stuff. I never not even once made it outside on that balcony to play. I remember being on line once I almost made it on that balcony but I must have did something wrong on line to go so I never made it, I have been telling my kids that story for over 40 yrs. so my daughter made a donation and it was a surprise but I had to go to Europe during that time so I never made it. When I got back I told them don't worry one day I will break in and go out on that balcony.

  17. Bob Ashpole replied, March 25, 2017 at 7:54 a.m.

    You always make me laugh, Nick. I remember my 3 kids. Both boys were a handful at 5 and my daughter was a handful at 2.

  18. Georges Carraha, March 26, 2017 at 8:20 p.m.

    The name "street soccer" is a bit overblown. I never played on the streets but played the game 3 times a day at school: before school starts, lunch time and after school. We played on cement with a Chinese-made rubber ball that bounces 10 feet high. We learned to control a ball with soft feet and we never has a coach. Passing, receiving, dribbling, chesting, heading, turning, shielding and other basic skills were learned as we played. We learned soccer rhythm and movement without thinking about it. We watched a lot of soccer and we had to earn our playing time. The non-sense of medals, trophies and other entitlements did not exit. Losing 20-0 was fun and taught us how to fight harder and improve. No one had to teach me to read the field.
    it was expected and we always played to impress. There was no pay to play. You could not play you sit down until you can learn the basic.
    Coaching Youth Soccer is very challenging in the US when you have kids that never watched or played the game.

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