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Youth soccer: While play is suspended, players try to stay ready

Andres Robles, a 16-year-old sophomore at Albuquerque High and a midfielder for New Mexico Rush, is training at home during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Andres Robles)

Andres Robles said he has been bored this week not being able to play soccer with his teammates because of the coronavirus outbreak and all the cancellations of sporting events, including local youth sports.

Usually at this time of the year, Robles, a 16-year-old sophomore at Albuquerque High and a midfielder for New Mexico Rush, is practicing three to five days a week and traveling out of state for tournaments on the weekends.

Instead, he is training at home. He was working on foot technique with a cloth ladder on the ground Monday.

“It’s better to be safe right now,” Robles said. “The time will come when it’s OK to go out and play soccer again.”

Until then, Robles and some 20,000 youth soccer players across the state are relegated to home workouts. All league play, practices and travel has been suspended, said Gloria Faber, executive director of New Mexico Youth Soccer Association.

Faber said NMYSA, which oversees club and recreation soccer in the state, is following all recommendations from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other regulations from U.S. Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer Federation. U.S. Youth Soccer called for all leagues to suspend play and practice until at least April 15, Faber said. She said she checks in weekly with them for updates.

Justin Sells is director of New Mexico Rush youth soccer program. Hes been sending video workouts to his players during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo from Justin Sells)

“Only three days into this week, and I think the kids are going through soccer withdrawals,” Faber said. “It’s tough for everyone. Hopefully they will stay active, and we’ll be ready to go when the restrictions are lifted.”

NMYSA is connecting with youth soccer players via social media and encouraging coaches to communicate with their players online.

The NMYSA is planning to offer an interactive phone app, Top Tekkers, that has several soccer workouts and activities, Faber said. The company is lowering the price from $35 to $5 at this time, she said.

Justin Sells, director of New Mexico Rush, used his own knowledge instead of the app. He has been sending Rush players workouts on video and assigning a weekly workout routine.

“I want them to do work technically and tactically, and watch some reruns of Premier League or any soccer,” Sells said. “They should spend the time watching the game as much as they can. We have some video analysis and we can send clips of games out to our players and send full matches.”

Many Rush teams, mainly the under-13 to under-19 teams, were three weeks into the spring season before all play was suspended.

Sells had been planning to take teams to Las Vegas, Nevada, this past weekend and this upcoming weekend for national tournaments, player showcases that draw colleges from all over the U.S. Those have been canceled. Regional events, Elite Club National League tournaments in Colorado, have also been axed.

“The tournaments in Las Vegas, those are the few events to get seen by college coaches before their high school careers are over,” Sells said.

Sells and others in the New Mexico youth soccer community are bracing themselves for the possibility of the annual New Mexico State Cup being shut down. The tournament, featuring various age-group teams vying to advance to Far West Regional play, is scheduled for May 2-22 at Bernalillo Soccer Complex.

“We are waiting to hear about State Cup,” said Stephanie Coppola, director of coaching for Albuquerque United FC Timbers and Thorns. “We are waiting for any kind of sign that can bring kids safely back together. Until we hear that, we won’t be doing anything with teams.”

Robles is hoping for clarity to come soon.

He has plans to train and play for the inaugural New Mexico United Under-23 team in May, and he is in the United’s high performance program. He wants to play soccer in college and looks forward to getting back on the pitch with his teammates.

Until then, he’ll continue to train at home.

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