Earlier this week, the New England Revolution U16 team got back from the Gauteng Future Champions Tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa. New England’s young guns came back having posted the best result from an American team at the tournament, finishing sixth out of 12 clubs at the tournament.
This morning I got a chance to speak with Revs U16 Coach and Director of Youth Development Bryan Scales about the tournament and the team’s experience in the Rainbow Nation.
Read it after the jump!
First of all, how do you think the tournament went from an on-the-field perspective?
I thought it went well. Certainly we were stretched against some very good teams. We had some stretches where I think our soccer was very, very good, but we also had moments where we lost our concentration and were punished against good players and good teams. To come in 6th out of 12th, I think we felt like we should have been in the top four if we had played well consistently, but it was such a tremendous and fantastic experience for all of our players.
Have you ever coached anything quite like that?
Well I’ve taken maybe seven or eight teams overseas, whether they were regional teams, national teams or college teams. I’ve been over [on the other side of the Atlantic] for a number of different tournaments. I would say this one had more impact and was certainly the most special as far as the environment, the history, the cultural ramifications, the social implications. It really was a special trip.
How much did you get to scout or do your homework on the teams in your group? You played some well known clubs like Orlando Pirates, but you were also playing some lesser known South African clubs too like School of Excellence.
We knew of Orlando Pirates. We didn’t know much about them as a team yet and that was our first game and it was on national television. So that was a tough one for us, they beat us 3 – 0.
We were able to scout the other two teams. Ahead of time, we knew that the K-Stars were the reigning African Under–17 champions, so we knew that they were going to be very good. We saw the SAFA team, the School of Excellence team play as well. We thought we matched up very well with both of those teams.
Getting to play Orlando Pirates twice while we were down there — as far as the soccer goes, I thought they were the best team in the tournament. I thought they were better soccer-wise than PSV, Mineiro and Nacional, who were three of the top four teams there along with the K-Stars.
What about their play impressed you particularly?
They were very organized for one. They were very comfortable on the ball. They were a team that if we didn’t take care of that ball and gave it away at dangerous areas on the field, they would strike quickly. Their players were great on the counter-attack, they played a lot of third-man combinations and really punished us on some mistakes that we made. We were able to see a lot of their games and they just moved the ball really well in each of them
Can you talk about the other teams you played — K-Stars, School of Excellence and Aspire — how they played, what their respective styles were like? Was that a challenge to play those different styles?
I would say School of Excellence and the K-Stars were both very athletic, pretty good on the ball. Both were tough to really figure out what their plans were at times. They were maybe a little unorganized in some areas, but I thought that the Orlando Pirates were very European almost at times in their organization, in how they played, in how they conducted themselves. It was very professional — and that’s not to say they other teams weren’t, but I do think Pirates probably stood alone as far as all the other African teams that we saw as far as organization, professionalism and a really distinct style of play.
Speaking of play, was there anyone for the Revs who performed exceptionally well, who really acquitted themselves well at this tournament?
There were a few guys who I thought were pretty consistent throughout the week. There were maybe four or five guys. Christian Sady did really well for us as our left back as did Erik Martel at our right back. They had a lot of the ball going forward and were consistently good throughout the week.
Guy Kabala was strong for us and this was the first time Guy played for our team since he’s been at Residency (in Bradenton). He clearly was one of our top guys. Good on the ball, strong, can read the game well and great feet. I also thought Danny Apajee had a good week too. Scored a nice goal against Aspire, was dangerous when he had the ball at his feet going forward.
For the most part, I think those guys were a handful of the ones who were really consistent during the tournament.
You guys watched the final which featured two talented South American teams in Clube Atletico Mineiro and Club Nacional de Football and you mentioned the quality of Pirates, what do you see separating those teams from the Revs and other great American Development Academy teams or do you even see a separation?
The two teams that were in the final, Mineiro and Nacional, both were very strong teams, very competitive teams. That being said, the final was not a great final to watch. It looked a little bit like the Spain–Netherlands World Cup final there a couple years ago. It was a real kind of a battle. It wasn’t pretty.
I would say that those two teams — in the environment they grow up in, in their development — they get to be very good on the ball and it’s very very competitive. The Orlando Pirates and PSV teams were probably a little more comfortable with the ball and moving it quickly. They had a little more aesthetics as far as style of play goes.
I think we were kind of hybrid of both of those styles. We had guys that could come in and really physically compete with some teams. The soccer was good for us in stretches, but at the end of the day I don’t think we were as consistent or able to concentrate as long as we needed to to beat some of the better teams. We certainly weren’t far away. If we can the chance to come back and do it again, we would definitely feel as if we were one of the top three or four teams in the tournament.
How does that work going forward? I know there’s a related tournament called the Belo Horizonte in Brazil in December and obviously the Gauteng Future Champions next summer.
I think it’s really up to the tournament organizers. It’s up to them as to who they invite. As for us, I think we gave a really great account of ourselves. The guys certainly did on and off the field. Whether it was in the townships with the local kids, in the hotel or in the African museum: all of those things we felt were of the highest standard. So we hope to get invited back, but if not being able to take teams on foreign trips is an even more important part of our programming as the Academy grows and we would hope that we could do it every year or every other year just so our players can get exposure to different environments. It’s absolutely critical for their development.
What was your favorite moment of the tournament? Either on or off the field?
I would say the day we left. We had talked a lot about the chemistry of our group. A lot of these African clubs, they’re not just teams, they’re tribes and they play as a tribe. We wanted our players to develop their own tribe and put that together on their own and have that mentality. I think we certainly did that during the week.
The particular moment that stands out for me. Atletico Mineiro had won the tournament and were in the middle of the field. All the other teams went to the final and we were trying to leave the field to get back on the bus. All of our players were just absolutely surrounded by all of the kids from the townships. Just gathered around each of them and walked with us to the bus.
We gave out jerseys and hats and socks and shorts and boots. I think that experience really made an impact on our guys, that we had gone down there and made such a positive impact on those kids. It’s something that I don’t think any of them will ever forget.