Gerry McKeown picks out his id2 International Selection Tour sides like he might a sports car. Sleek, technically advanced and streamlined, McKeown prefers teams that perhaps give a bit of size for skill along the ground. At PDA, where McKeown is the technical director, that’s always been his aesthetic preference.
So when he assembled his team for the id2 select team’s trip to Argentina earlier this month, he was uncompromising. His roster of 18 of the best U14 players picked from US Club Soccer’s regional id2 camps was set up to play some of the best youth teams in Argentina.
McKeown was prepping for kung-fu. He got boxing instead.
“I think the trip was successful, definitely in terms of the challenges we were presented with,” McKeown said. “But I’d have to say the challenges were different than we thought going in.”
McKeown’s side went 1-1-2 against youth sides from Velez Sarsfield, Boca Juniors, Argentinos Juniors and San Lorenzo. In the lone win, a 3-1 result against Argentinos, Crossfire’s Lorenzo Lopez netted twice in the first half and Santa Rosa’s Luis Arriaga added insurance in the second half. The team also took in Argentinian first division soccer and saw a bit of Buenos Aires.
But the coaching staff was surprised by the physicality provided by the tour. Every team the id2 side faced mashed its way up the middle and attempted to overpower the smaller Americans. In that sense, this trip wasn’t quite as successful as the tour’s visit to Italy last year. That team managed three wins in matches against the likes of Juventus, Siena and Inter Milan. But it did provide a valuable learning experience for players presented with more direct opponents.
“It was definitely an old European style of play,” McKeown said. “As we spoke to people from their academies after the games, the focus for them is to place a guy in Europe. So at our age group those players were already doing some weight training and building up their upper bodies. You could see it. It was only when you got up close to the kids that you could see they look like men, but they have these baby faces.”
While the team struggled to cope with the unexpected physicality, it did manage to notch a win and escape with two draws. The team opened the trip with a thrilling 3-3 draw against Velez Sarsfield. Napa Valley’s Eduardo Blancas gave the id2 team a lead in the 27th, but Velez Sarsfield answered back less than 10 minutes later. The id2 team took another lead through Arriaga, but the game was level again a minute later. Velez Sarsfield took its only lead in the second half, but the ultimate equalizer came through Bethesda’s Bryang Kayo.
The lone loss came against Boca Juniors at their La Candela training field. LA Galaxy’s Togo Nakamura managed a goal, but the host side was too much. In the last match, Arriaga scored his third goal of the trip to salvage a 1-1 draw against San Lorenzo.
On trips like these, results are plowed under by the importance of development. McKeown recognized the trip probably didn’t fit his aesthetic ideal, but it did provide him with some vital teaching moments.
“We brought a butter knife to a gun fight, because we brought a bunch of creative players with good brains,” McKeown said. “You get them in a game where they’re just having to fight and battle and scrap and deal with pressure, it became tough. But it also allows us to see how they survive in that and solve the problems. There were some of the smaller technical guys that did very well in solving problems and releasing the ball quickly and looking for a back, and there were a couple guys that just couldn’t handle that level and the physicality of it.”
Once the team gathered in Houston for an initial camp before flying to Argentina, the team’s bond became apparent to McKeown almost immediately. That allowed a sense of playing freedom and added to the trip’s enjoyment.
“These guys were already a group with no deviations. Everyone had bought in, everyone was into it. They were all ready to fight for each other, which ultimately they had to do. They succeeded with that. They achieved some great results with what they were facing. I think they all agreed with the expectations and the style of play we wanted to play, and really stuck to that which was a real feather in their cap.”