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Eyes on the Netherlands
Xavier Araujo and James Fraser are inching closer to most kids’ soccer dream of playing professionally.
The pair, along with Bjorn Borren, Alix Varchol and Lina Campagnaro, returned recently from the Netherlands with Pinnacles FC district coach Paulo Araujo and executive director and head coach Ezra Cremers.
Araujo, Fraser and Borren trained with youth academy players from Excelsior Rotterdam, while Varchol and Campagnaro trained with ADO Den Haag, a women’s professional club.
Araujo and Fraser have been invited by Excelsior Rotterdam’s youth head coach Marco van Lochem to return in August with the chance to earn themselves a professional contract.
Araujo was excited and nervous prior to the trip, but upon arrival, everything fell into place and his nerves disappeared. The trio were instantly integrated with the players for training and watched professional games. The training sessions were quicker than what Araujo and Fraser were used to. Araujo said the word faster was used a lot, while Fraser said the level was just better.
“The first few sessions it was hard,” said Fraser. “Once you got into it, it was just unreal to play at that level, really.”
“The players there, you could tell they were in a professional program for most of their lives,” said Araujo. “Their passes were all completely solid. If you didn’t have a hard enough pass, you definitely were going to be told that.”
Araujo was sore following the first session and noticed the soccer balls weighed more. Near the end of the two-week trip, the trio were playing in games and Araujo got used to the speed.
“We were able to adapt better,” he said.
The local soccer players faced a second division amateur club and Araujo explained that the Netherlands has a Premiere division, which all the top teams play in. Then they have a another division, which they call the first division, that is where Excelsior plays.
“Excelsior is a very exceptional program,” said Araujo. “Their younger players get picked up by bigger clubs at a young age.”
Araujo, 17, gained confidence in the training and games and realized that he’s not far off the European players. Araujo will now head back in August to try and make the professional Excelsior team. If not, he will return to Canada and attended university to study to become a chemical engineer. For Araujo, the future trip is for experience.
“If I were to make the first team, there is no way I’m coming back right away,” said Araujo, who is trying to be realistic about the future.
Araujo got the bug to play in 2006 while watching the World Cup.
“I saw Cristiano Ronaldo play. He’s Portuguese, I’m Portuguese. I just loved how much it looked like he was always having fun,” said Araujo. “Do all these tricks and make it like a show. I think it’s so important that you just don’t go there and treat it as a job. Always trying new things. Putting on a show for people that are there.”
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The experience was unbelievable for Fraser on and off the field. He loved the Netherlands. When the 17-year-old was asked by van Lochem to come and try earn a professional contract, Fraser said, “it was all kind of like a dream come true. It happened really quick.”
“It was just kind of an eye-opening experience for what soccer is really like,” said Fraser, whose favourite player is Greece’s Kostas Mitroglou. “After playing in Canada for so many years, you get used to it. Go there and it’s just like what it’s supposed to be. That’s a huge step up from Canadian soccer. I got to see how they really play.”
Fraser said his first few sessions were “horrible”
“I could not keep up,” said Fraser. “I thought I was a better player after two weeks. Hopefully after a year, I will be a much, much better player. Just because of how fast it is.”
van Lochem see potential in all three players.
“They responded very quick because they were training with better players (higher intensity of the practices),” said van Lochem in an email. “If you train with better players around you, the level is going up very quick.”
Borren had training sessions with the under-17 group and van Lochem saw the improvements in his skill. van Lochem said they are already getting good training with Pinnacles FC, but the difference is the speed of sessions and quality of players.
“When you train with good players and you have an open mind, then it is amazing how fast the development goes,” he continued. “Xavier, James and Bjorn are good enough to play for our academy.”
van Lochem said the biggest thing kids must learn are the tactical choices and the speed of the training sessions and games. However, if they train for two months then van Lochem knows they are already on that level of what they ask from a player.
“Xavier, James, Bjorn have the skills, heart and the spirit to become a better player in the future ,” said van Lochem.
As for Campagnaro, 18, the trip was an amazing experience getting to know a different culture, while seeing and playing the game from a different point of view.
“It was really cool to see where I was at and realize how far I’ve come to be able to keep up with a professional team,” she said.
Campagnaro became a better player as she gained a new way of thing about certain aspects of soccer.