LITTLE SILVER –Red Bank Regional rising senior Sam MacPherson is doing his part to help the U.S. embrace soccer.
The 17-year-old Red Bank resident, a soccer forward, played this spring in an international tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa, with his elite team of 18 players in the Region I US Soccer Youth Olympic Development Program (USSODP).
The team is comprised of the best soccer players culled from competitive tournaments in 15 states in the Mid-Atlantic to North Eastern United States from Virginia to Maine.
For the past six years, MacPherson has been part of an organization with the mission of developing youth soccer players to increase U.S. success in the international soccer arena. Like many suburban American kids, MacPherson began playing soccer at age 6. By the age of 8, he began to distinguish himself in the sport by joining a traveling soccer team and taking his family along to destinations throughout the East Coast. It was in traveling soccer that he first learned about USSODP.
“I was looking for a higher level of soccer and, therefore, tried out for the NJ Olympic Development program,” he said.
Each year, MacPherson improved his level of play until he was selected from a competitive camp program to make the international team, reaching the highest level he could achieve in that program.
“The purpose of the international trip is to get the experience to play in world competitive soccer, which is more challenging than any opportunity you have to play in the United States,” he said.
In late March, his team traveled to South Africa for a 10-day trip to play in the 2014 Future Champions Gauteng Cup where 16 teams from almost as many countries were represented in an under 17-age tournament.
The athletes were housed in an Olympic-style village atmosphere, living, eating and socializing together. The opportunity offered an even more valuable lesson learned off the soccer field of ambassadorship and cultural diversity.
“I absolutely loved getting to know everybody,” he said. “We hung out with the boys, mainly from Ghana and Zambia, and they even taught us their chants while we were traveling together to the games. I keep in touch with some of them through Facebook.”
The Region USSODP versus UK Sunderland game was even broadcast on South African TV. In all, the American Region I team played five games yielding three ties and two losses, a respectable showing for a team that only played together three times before the international tournament. MacPherson registered an assist in one of the games. He was surprised to learn that some of the other teams were actually youth-feeder teams for their country’s professional teams.
“Some of the boys actually lived and practiced with the pros. Others went to schools that specialized in soccer so they were also able to be educated,” he said.
Not surprisingly, the team from Brazil, which MacPherson described as “amazing,” won the Gauteng Cup.
The fun did not end with the tournament, however. The group traveled together to enjoy an African safari outside of Johannesburg where the players observed lions, cheetahs, hyenas and ostriches in their natural habitat.
Thinking upon his homeland and the importance of soccer, MacPherson believes that for years America’s focus for soccer has been on the fitness aspect of just playing a sport. He said international players, however, have more “soccer sense,” stressing the aspects of soccer in addition to being good athletes. He believes the American approach to soccer is changing to concentrate more on skills rather than just fitness.
MacPherson will play his last soccer season at RBR this fall. At the same time, he will be intensifying his college search. As a student in RBR’s Academy of Sports Medicine & Management and a student athletic trainer, he hopes to attend a university that offers a program in his career aspiration of emergency medicine, and where he can also play Division I soccer.
As an honor roll and AP student, who happens to have reached the pinnacle in American youth soccer, MacPherson should have some very good prospects. For now, he is enjoying a summer of lifeguarding and watching the World Cup.