ELYRIA — You can imagine how heads turned and jaws dropped when a bunch of soccer players showed up for a game Saturday morning chanting something nobody understood.
They did it again when they took the field to play a team from the Chicago area on the vast front lawn of Lorain County Community College. And although it didn’t seem to help in terms of success on the pitch, it was entertaining enough.
You don’t find pregame chanting much in this country, and that goes a long way toward explaining it.
This particular team of boys 18-and-under was from South Africa, and they popped into Elyria for the weekend to play in a five-on-five tournament.
It was a long way to go to play soccer with five on a side, on a small field with nothing really at stake in a place where nobody speaks Zulu or Afrikaans or Sesotho. That’s what these cats speak, although they also manage in English.
But that’s the simple answer.
This team, with players from Johannesburg, the Fontein region and elsewhere, was one of 65 playing in the two-day tournament for boys and girls of several age groups. It has attracted perhaps 1,200 players, officials, parents, siblings and other spectators to the LCCC campus. It continues today.
The event is known as Fever 5 Futbol, which seems like a funny way to spell football, except the South Africans had a slogan stitched on the backs of their shirts that reads: “Futbol is not a sport. It’s a way of life.”
The tournament is sponsored by Brad Friedel’s Premier Soccer Academies, which is opening this fall in Lorain. The tournament director is Chris Dore, former Lorain Catholic and professional star, now the boys coach at Avon.
Bay Village native Friedel is well known in this area as a former U.S. national team goalkeeper now playing professionally in England.
Michelle Griffith, PSA’s national marketing director, said this is the first of what next year will become a series of five-on-five tournaments at various sites around the country.
“We plan to expand all over the United States,” said Griffith. “We hope to have the finals here at the academy in late August.”
Incidently, the South Africans didn’t just hop on a plane for a weekend of fun and soccer in Elyria. Coach Sidney Frewen said he and his players will attend a clinic sponsored by Friedel and PSA next week. Meantime, they’re staying in a North Olmsted motel for the weekend and will move to the Oberlin College campus for the clinic.
“The tournament is valuable to our players because they can compare themselves against American teams,” Frewen said. “No. 2, it bridges a culture gap because they want to see how other international teams play; how they talk on the field. Are they hard? Are they physical and skillful? What style do they play?”
The experience was also worthwhile for coach Venera Ilievski of Elyria and her team of U-13 boys from the Greater Elyria Soccer Association.
“It’s good for us because it’s local and it gives us something close and our kids a chance to show their skills in the community,” said Ilievski. “We finally have something that’s right here in our own backyard. Also, we wanted to come out and show that the Elyria soccer program can participate in tournaments like this.”
Her team is scheduled to play one of four teams from South Africa today.
The 18-year-olds from Grays Lake, Carmel Catholic and other Chicago-area high schools took a 2-0 lead on the South Africans, then hung on for a 2-1 victory.
An Illinois player’s father said the team drove to Elyria so it could play against top competition.
“I actually know nothing about soccer,” he said, “but I know a good team when I see one.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org