The man on the left of the photo above is Richie Quilumba. He is from Ecudor and grew up playing soccer and practicing martial arts. He is a soft-spoken, devoutly religious man with a tremedous amount of patience. The man on the right is Ivo. He played professional water polo in communist Bulgaria. He learned English in a Miami hotel room while being “processed”, and still speaks with the accent of a Diehard villian. He is a successful businessman, risk-taker and devout atheist. For the last two years, they have coached my son Bryson on the Orlando (Maitland) Futsal team. I am thankful for their service and friendship.
As is obvious to any reader of this blog, I am a coach. I coach basketball at Winter Springs. I have also coached my kids, Camden, Bryson and Holland in basketball, football and soccer. My son Camden was at one point a promising soccer player in his own right, but things fell apart in the first season I did not coach him in an attempt to play for a more talented team. The coach didn’t provide the talent he advertised and was a miserable coach as well. Camden lost interest, and became a man of music. It is not a stretch to say that I was haunted by that experience when Bryson reached the same point in his development.
At this same time, Richie and Ivo bonded over their distaste of the high cost and bureaucratic bullshit of big club soccer, and decided to undertake a two year project in player development. The premise was to establish a group of players at a comparable skill level and provide them with a year round training regiment that emphasized individual skill development over team achievement all at a lower cost than prevailing club rates.
Shortly after club try-outs, Bryson began small group training with Richie. Richie was sufficiently impressed to ask if Bryson would be interested in their project. A week later, I was watching an indoor game when a guy with a shaved head, hoop earring and Eastern European accent threw his arm around me and asked why I wanted to waste my money at CFK. We were formally indoctrinated into the project.
Being notoriously cheap, I was drawn to the project for financial reasons, but I could already see improvement in Bryson under Richie’s training and accepted the sincerity of Richie and Ivo’s goal.
Richie handled most of the technical coaching and Ivo the logisitics. The initial group was balanced and fun to watch. Training was well-organized and productive. Beyond the training, Bryson played indoor, 3 v. 3 and futsal which kept him active 5-6 days a week throughout the year. He grew significantly as a player.
As a team, we were handicapped by not having a true keeper. Despite playing some flowing football, we conceded some crap goals and lost the fall league title with losses in the last two weeks. Our tournament player was erratic, and we suffered a disappointing setback by failing to get out of the first round of Region’s Cup play. We led 3-1 in our first game with less than 15 minutes to play, but gave up two bad goals and the draw proved fatal to our chances. Don’t mind me I am really not bitter about this game at all (COUGH BULLSHIT). The spring season after Region’s Cup was wrought with a number of significant injuries, but the team played with heart and won the league.
Personally, I was happy with Bryson’s progress. I felt in the fall he played too many minutes in a defensive role, but in the spring, he was primarily a center mid, and his influence on the game was maximized.
We lost three of our initial ten players after that season, and matters were complicated by the fact we were going from 8 v. 8 to 11 a side play. Richie and Ivo scrambled to find enough players to field a team, and even among the returning players the rate of improvement varied greatly. Consequently, the team lacked balance. The disparity between the better players and the lesser players was substantial which effected the type of drills that could be done. Further, the team relied on guest players that practiced with other teams, and did regularly attend our training sessions. Both technical and tactical training suffered.
With the depleted roster, the team played several times with no subs, ten and on at least one occaision nine players on the field. Bryson, among others, was frequently played in several positions each game, and the team lacked any continuity. Our results, measured in the traditional manner of wins and losses, were abysmal. Our viewing pleasure measured in the unconventional manner of my profanity was even worse.
Richie and Ivo shown their true quality as men in this circumstance. They stayed the course, kept training the boys, made a few positional changes and inspired our best run of play heading through the State Cup. We got out of the first round playing solid, but unspecacularly, and were a goal away from making the sweet 16. The group of players, however flawed, finished playing competitively against all comers.
This weekend we played together for the final time. It was a tournament and we went 2-1 in a fashion consistent with our recent form. We did not lift a trophy or even play the final. Our final game was a miserable 1-0 loss to a mediocre team coached by a loud-mouthed guy better suited to leading the Charge of the Light Brigade than developing quality players or people.
Over the next two weeks the immediate futures of our various players will be determined at other clubs with other coaches. It would be dishonest to say I have not spent large portions of the last two years frustrated mostly at losses, but also at tactics, subsititutions and postioning. It is my nature. Be that as it may, I believe that Richie and Ivo’s project has served Bryson well as a player and a person. It was the best option available to us and the time we took it, and for that I have no regrets. Personally, I have enjoyed the time I have spent with Richie and Ivo, as well as Dan, Mike, Juan, Aldo, Francis, Diliana, Sean, Joe, Tony, Paula, Mike and Annemarie, Gary….the parents of the players who I number now as my friends.
To each of you I offer a heartfelt Thank You.