In March 2011 Lionel Messi and the Argentina National Team took to the training facilities in East Rutherford, New Jersey to scrimmage against the young members of the New York Red Bulls Academy. The opportunity proved to be a valuable one for the U-18s and a moment each and every one of them would remember throughout their soccer careers.
Six months later, in anticipation of Saturday’s 8 pm Red Bull Arena match between Colombia and Honduras, the Academy welcomed the Colombia National squad to the pitch.
Over 100 soccer fans lined up outside the fence surrounding the field at Montclair State University Thursday evening to catch a glimpse of the Academy’s scrimmage against Colombia. While the nationals made the most of their time by running through a series of plays leading up to Saturday’s match, the Academy players opened themselves up to the challenge of taking on Colombia’s best.
“Days like [Thursday] when we get a chance to play against a full national team, a team with a caliber like Colombia, gives us an opportunity to give a great learning experience for our players,” said Academy Director Bob Montgomery. “Demonstrating and putting things on a board and doing drills in training is one thing, but playing in a live game against top class internationals is the best teacher.”
The scrimmage opened up with 11 New York players pressing against four of Colombia’s defenders. Heads-up play, on-the-spot passing and team chemistry were battle tested as the young squad choreographed attack after attack. Shortly after, it was time for Colombia’s back four to be joined by the rest of the starting XI for two 40-minute halves against the Academy.
Colombia was quick to transition the flow of play toward New York’s end, where Academy goalkeeper Santiago Castano (Union City, NJ) experienced the onslaught of his opponent’s high-octane offense first hand.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Castano. “Even though we got five in, it doesn’t really matter because you just take the experience away from it.”
Midfielder Oscar Gonzalez (Clifton, NJ) fondly recalled playing against Argentina and was especially grateful for yet another opportunity to play against a national side.
“It’s been a great experience. Both teams were great,” Gonzalez said. “I think this time around I knew better to be ready because the level of play from us to the actual national teams that we played is just amazing.”
Thursday’s scrimmage was without a doubt a great experience for the U-18 team, but it also stood as a primer for Colombia in their upcoming match and an overall momentous occasion for the Academy as a whole.
Argentina in March. Colombia in September. What could the future possibly have in store for New York’s up-and-comers?
“We’d take anyone,” said Montgomery. “Any day like this is a great opportunity. We’re really thankful for Coach and for the team and the players from Colombia for allowing us and asking us to be here. It’s quite an honor for our club and for our youth academy.”