Soccer not only excites, but unites

Soccer Columnist

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By CHUCK RACE

Soccer, the world's most popular sport, continues to cross borders and bridge language barriers, even locally here in Oak Park and River Forest. Several youth soccer teams from the Rapids and Strikers have traveled to Europe in the past few years to experience this most international of sports first hand. For two sophomore boys, Jared Reddrick and Liam Bird, best friends and soccer teammates at OPRFHS, their cultural opportunity came during Thanksgiving.

Players and coaches from their Chicago Fire Juniors U-16 Boys team arrived in Morelia, Mexico last Sunday morning for an extended training period with the Chicago Fire's Mexican League sister club, Monarcas Morelia. While in Morelia, the CFJ's took part in a variety of activities both off and on the field, as they got a glimpse into what it takes to be a part of Monarcas' "Fuerzas Basics" program, which is widely considered one of the best youth development programs in Mexico. After training on both Sunday and Monday, the Juniors took part in three exhibition contests against San Luis de Poto, an affiliate of the Morelia program, on Tuesday, Monarcas' Fourth Division side on Wednesday and Toluca's Fourth Division squad on Friday. While each day included chances for the Chicagoans to experience the rich culture and history of Mexico, the CFJ's also introduced members of the Fuerzas Basics to an American tradition - the "other football"- when the Juniors took on their hosts in the first annual "Turkey Bowl" on Thanksgiving afternoon. Other highlights on the trip for the CFJ's included the chance to meet members of Morelia's First Division squad and take in one of their practice sessions, and a tour of Morelos Stadium, home of the club's First Division team. Most importantly, Jared and Liam got the chance to meet with their fellow students of the game from the Fuerzas Basics, to socialize and see how the sport of soccer impacts youths in other cultures.

Hit them where it hurts (and leave the referee alone): Unruly fan conduct is, distressingly, becoming a fixture in today's sports landscape. It seems no sport is immune to boorish behavior. When it escalates to attacking players and referees on the field however, the consequences should be swift and lasting. During a September 15 Champions League match, a fan for top Italian soccer club AS Roma flung a large missile (some say a coin) at referee Anders Frisk as he left the field at halftime, causing a huge gash and effusion of blood. The decision was soon made to cause Roma to forfeit the match (this was the swift part). FIFA (the world's governing body for soccer) then decided to hit Roma where it hurts (this hopefully is the lasting part) by forcing the club to play their next home match before an empty stadium, causing Roma to forfeit a considerable sum at the gate. So the next time you're at Taylor Park or the Priory watching a youth soccer game, and some parent starts berating the referee, my recommendation is that the offending parent's team forfeit the game. And for good measure, the know-it-all parent should be required to attend the next referee certification clinic as part of his community service.

Indoor Soccer Facility Anyone? The Strikers and Rapids continue to struggle to find suitable facilities for indoor training. Given the 30-60 minute commute to the closest indoor soccer facilities, coupled with the high cost of indoor soccer leagues, there is a growing need to find a location closer to home for indoor practices and games. The Strikers recently located a commercial warehouse building in Forest Park suitable for retrofitting into a soccer facility but have been unable to secure enough financial support from the club to make it work. So ? at this point, we may have to turn to Santa for help. Happy Holidays to everyone in our soccer community!

E-mail: Race822@mindspring.com

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